Oh, happy day: Chicago hopes to crack down on high-calorie vending machines

Good news, Chicagoans: Your government is here for you… to save you from yourselves. Heck, why not jump on the nanny-state bandwagon New York City already got rolling so spectacularly with their large-soda ban? All the cool kids are doing it, guys. Via NBC:

Mayor Rahm Emanuel said Wednesday he’s cracking down on the caloric content of vending machines in city buildings and plans to replace them all with healthy vending by next year.

A proposed ordinance, to be introduced this week, will lay out plans for the new machines and detail guidelines on fat, sugar and calorie content starting in January 2013. …

According to the plan, at least 75 percent of food offerings should contain 250 calories or less and at least five items should contain 250mg or less of sodium per serving. A gluten- and nut-free option also must be provided.

Oh, and healthier foods can’t be pricier than their higher-calorie counterparts.

Well, thank goodness for that. I’m sure that enough people get enough of their calories out of vending machines on a regular enough basis that limiting what the government deems to be unhealthy options will have a measurable effect on public health, and that this will have zero adverse unintended consequences. It’s also great to hear that they’ll be dedicating their residents’ public resources and bureaucratic manpower to enforcing this potential public-health decree, because it’s not as if Chicago has bigger problems to worry about or anything. Womp.

What’s more, as Reason pointed out in the wake of the NYC large-soda ban, these types of laws are all-too-often deceptively complex and tricky to nail down. Could this proposed ordinance possibly have any negative economic impact on businesses serving or in the Chicago area, I wonder?

The number of exceptions to the ban makes the whole practice an absurd spectacle of pointless progressive authoritarian paternalism. Fruit juices and milkshakes are not affected by the ban even though both can have sugar content right up there with your Cokes and your Mountain Dews. The ban affects restaurants and movie theaters but not convenience stores, so New Yorkers won’t be able to get a 20-ounce soda at McDonald’s, but they will be able to get a 50-ounce Double Gulp from 7-Eleven. Furthermore, the ban shouldn’t affect diet or sugar-free drinks, but as The New York Times reports, establishments with self-service fountains will not be able to stock cups that hold more than 16 ounces. So essentially, thirsty people will want to avoid the targeted businesses altogether even if they’re drinking healthy.

One annoying outcome of this half-assed Nanny Statism is how it’s easy it’s going to be to spin an argument for an expansion of the ban regardless of the outcome. If the city’s obesity numbers drop, it will be an argument that the ban worked and it should be expanded. If the obesity numbers don’t drop, it means the ban obviously didn’t go far enough and should be expanded. The drug war’s arguments are on their way to the soda dispenser.

And the soda-dispenser arguments are on their way to the vending machine.

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