Walter E. Williams
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My February 2002 column, "They're Coming After You," warned that Americans who enthusiastically supported the anti-tobacco zealots' attack on smokers were, like decent Germans did during the 1920s and '30s, building the Trojan Horse that would one day enable a tyrant to take over. The whole issue of tobacco smoke nuisance is really a private property issue where the owner should decide how his private property shall be used, whether it's an office building, restaurant, bar or home. That's unless one group of people wishes to use the coercive powers of government, in the name of health or some other ruse, to impose their preferences upon others.

Anti-tobacco zealots don't have a monopoly on tyrannical designs. There are those who wish to control what we eat, and the successful attack on smokers has provided a template for their agenda. Chief among the food tyrants is the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI). These tyrants want taxes on foods they deem as non-nutritious. They've even proposed a 5 percent tax on new television sets and video equipment and a $65 tax on each new car or an extra penny per gallon of gas. Why? They see watching television and videos, riding instead of walking, as contributing to obesity. Thus, in their view, just as tobacco companies were responsible for people smoking, television and video manufacturers are responsible for people being couch potatoes. Automobile companies are responsible for people riding instead of walking. The restaurant industry is responsible for American obesity.

Some people have told me that these tyrants would never get away with controlling what we eat. Here's the Mississippi Legislature House Bill 282, introduced this year by Rep. W.T. Mayhall, that in part reads: "An Act to prohibit certain food establishments from serving food to any person who is obese, based on criteria prescribed by the State Department of Health; to direct the Department to prepare written materials that describe and explain the criteria for determining whether a person is obese and to provide those materials to the food establishments; to direct the Department to monitor the food establishments for compliance with the provisions of this act." The bill proposes to revoke licenses of food establishments that violate the provisions of the act.

You shouldn't believe that if this measure is successful in Mississippi that it will stay in Mississippi. Moreover, it will be expanded upon because most people who are obese don't become so by eating at restaurants; mostly, it's food eaten at home. Thus, the food tyrants won't be satisfied with restaurant restrictions, just as the anti-tobacco zealots weren't satisfied with warning labels on cigarettes. They will push for legislation restricting the sale of foods at supermarkets. Since an obese person can get a svelte person to do his grocery shopping for him, legislators might propose sting operations to fine or arrest people giving an obese person high-calorie food.

The food tyrants have a compatriot in the person of Yale University's Professor Kelly D. Brownell, director of the Center for Eating and Weight Disorders. He thinks Americans eat too many hamburgers and French fries. Professor Brownell, who is fat himself, wants government to tax fatty foods and those with little nutritional content and use some of the tax proceeds to build bike and hiking trails. Suppose not enough Americans bike and hike. I bet he and his ilk would call for legislation that mandated some form of exercise.

Most evil done in the world is done in the name of promoting this or that supposed good. Americans turning away from rule of law and constitutional government are following in the footsteps of other people around the world who discovered their liberties gone and recovering them was next to impossible. But, what the heck. You might be among those Americans who don't smoke and are not obese, so why sweat it?

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Walter E. Williams

Dr. Williams serves on the faculty of George Mason University as John M. Olin Distinguished Professor of Economics and is the author of 'Race and Economics: How Much Can Be Blamed on Discrimination?' and 'Up from the Projects: An Autobiography.'
 
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