Wednesday, December 07, 2005

More dot connecting

Posted by Craig Westover | 9:34 AM |  

An so it continues . . . .

Riding out of the hills to shoot the wounded, the Pioneer Press editorial board piggybacks on the hard work of reporters Jason Hoppin and Mary Jo Sylvester, adding nothing to the smoking ban debate but the illusion of gravitas.
A Pioneer Press analysis of hospitality industry profits shows that in spite of the odd mix of smoking bans across the metro area, the industry is doing just fine, thank you. In fact, the industry is growing. The results suggest that the sky hasn't fallen, in spite of talk about empty bar stools across the land.

That isn't to say that some bars haven't felt a financial pinch. Alcohol sales have dropped while food sales have risen. Overall, the analysis shows increased sales tax receipts from the hospitality industry, even after imposition of smoking bans. . . .

Note also that the same analysis of smoke/no smoke bars and restaurants has occurred in cities and counties across the country with the same results. Some smokers choose not to patronize the nonsmoking establishments, of course, but nonsmokers replace them. Business shifts toward or away from a location, which is how the hospitality industry has always functioned. Today's hot spot is tomorrow's wasteland.

And consider the larger point: An increasing number of hospitality industry employees are working in safer, smoke-free environments. That means fewer health costs later. As St. Paul City Council Member Dave Thune said, fewer hospitalized Minnesotans who miss work and suffer from lung-related illness more than offset any lost profits caused by tobacco addiction.
I’ve written about the analysis here. The only points I would call attention to in the editorial specifically are, first, the sentences --
Business shifts toward or away from a location, which is how the hospitality industry has always functioned. Today's hot spot is tomorrow's wasteland.
Very true, but that’s not an accurate description of what happened in Hennepin County. Business didn’t shift because of changing population patterns, changes in buying habit, changes in the economy. Business shifts occurred because government stepped in and changed the rules. Government determined winners and losers. Government messed up the market and without penalty created the “wastelands.”

Second, of course is the notion of the health implications. I noted in the post here that no smoking ban supporter has produced a study or statistical support for health problems from secondhand smoke in bars and restaurants that would signal a NECESSITY for government intervention. Nor has any municipal body or the state put forth any criteria by which to judge whether a health issue rise to a level NECESSITATING government intervention.

Why is that important? Turn to the front page of today’s St. Paul Pioneer Press -- “Time to cut the fat.”
Upping the stakes in the national obesity debate, the nation's premier science organization urged Congress on Tuesday to consider restricting the marketing of junk food to children if food companies do not cut back on their own.
Ahhh . . . The government equivalent of Mom asking “Why don’t you eat some beans?” That’s not a request. It’s a command. When mom does it, it’s cute. When government does it, it’s frightening. But if that’s not frightening enough, consider this comment by Mary Story, a professor in the School of Public Health at the University of Minnesota who helped prepare the report that is the subject of the article.
Q. The recommendations call for strategies that encourage the "healthful diet of children and youth." How realistic is this?

A. It does call for major changes in the food/beverage industry and media in how foods are promoted and the types of foods being promoted.

We're recommending the food industry, in conjunction with the government and scientific community, develop and implement labels and an industry-ratings system in graphic representation — to illustrate the nutrition quality of food — that is easily understandable by children. The government really needs to look at public policy approaches to foster promotion of healthful diets, whether they be tax credits, recognition, company awards.

If we're asking food/beverage industries to shift their portfolio to have more healthy foods available, people have to want to buy those foods. We're recommending a large-scale social marketing campaign to increase demand of healthy foods.

We're also recommending that restaurants should expand and promote healthier food options for children and that restaurants provide calorie content on menus and packaging. We're recommending a marketing campaign geared to parents of children up to age 4, when food preferences are still forming. It's hard when one company goes out on a limb. It will be much easier if there's a collective response by the food industry. And they can marshal their forces. [emphasis added].
Beyond knowing what “recommending” means to government, is this not frightening? Social marketing campaigns? Collective response by the food industry?

Anything practical things an individual parent might do, Ms. Story?
The report didn't address that. We did recommend a national campaign targeting parents of young children.
“Targeting” is such a reassuring word when used in conjunction with government programs. In fairness, Story did go way out on a limb and make some individual comments apart from the hive.
In my view — not speaking for the committee — parents need to limit TV watching. Also, what children eat should mirror what parents eat. Parents can be role models for healthy eating. That means more meals at home, more availability of fruits and vegetables at home.
Advice like that is certainly worth my tax dollars.

My column today was about connecting the dots between news stories. Sometimes the connections are subtle, but smoking bans to social marketing campaigns against junk food to collective response replacing individual choices -- mandatroy one-size-fits-all vaccination programs, evidence-based medicine replacing individualized treatments . . . . Perhaps the communications director of the American Bowel Association of Minnesota will be a more eager debater.

Update: From today's Pioneer Press letters to the editor
Child care story follow-up needed

I hope you will have a sequel to your Nov. 29 front-page article, "Minnesota's child care far short of excellent," that describes the lapses in the quality of care that children receive in their own homes.

It might be titled "Minnesota's parents — not always above average."

I wonder what the agenda is here? Perhaps closer state supervision of parents? Perhaps a social marketing program? We could start with an emphasis on junk food.

Category: Free Markets, Individual Liberty, Obesity