Why is being strung out on sugar worse than being strung out on meth? If warning labels are good enough for (currently illicit) drugs, why shouldn't the warning labels that are already on fatty, sugary foods be sufficient to keep people informed about the risks they're taking by eating them?Obviously, being strung out on meth is worse than being strung out on sugar. So why does it seem that I am trying to keep people from using sugar but not meth? The difference lies in what remedy I think is necessary for the two different classes of problems ...
In both cases I want to discourage the bad choice, but not prohibit it, and I want to find the most effective means I can of affecting the fundamental problem. I want to fix the problems I can affect, accept the problems I cannot affect, and permit as much personal liberty as I can in the process.
Medicinal drugs are a question of civil liberties. If I have reliable information about a drug's known effects and risks, then I am equipped to make an adult decision. I should be able to make my own risk assessments, especially if I have a really scary disease. If inadequately-tested drugs have a big red sticker on them saying "RISKY: the FDA does not certify that this drug is either safe or effective," that should work pretty well.
The only public health problem I can think of that is affected here is the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria from antibiotic abuse, but our current restricted regime is already screwing this one up, so I don't think that freer access will really make things worse.
The major social problems with illicit recreational drugs are
- Some people are prone to addiction and screw up their lives
- Drug users create medical crisis intervention costs bourne by society
- Addicts are willing to do socially destructive things to supply themselves with the drugs they desire
- Drug supplier mafiosi engage in violence and generate political corruption
On point #2, again the legality of a drug does little to affect how many people do stupid things that lead to this need. If anything, making a drug illegal leads people to wait to seek aid until their condition is more acute and expensive to treat.
On points #3 and #4, these problems arise largely from the availability constraints that arise out of illegality. Nicotine is more addictive than heroin, but people don't break your car window to steal your car stereo to buy cigarettes, because cigarettes. are cheap and readily available. But people will rob you to buy heroin because they have to deal with heroin dealers, who manipulate price and supply, to placate.
Thus the social ills from recreational drugs are actually better addressed through a set of policies that create more availability, not less.
Sugar, on the other hand, is a problem of too much availability. America is a great big candy store. For the poor and hungry, sugar gives you the most calories for your dollar. For the rich and busy, it's one of the most conveniently available ways to get your calories. The cheapness of sugar creates an incentive for food manufacturers and retailers to sell consumers more of it in more formats, and drives sugarless foods out of the market.
If we make sugar more expensive --- not prohibitively expensive, just enough that it's a bit of a luxury --- we shift the incentives in favor of making more wholesome alternatives available. Candy won't go away, but if it's easier for food makers and sellers to make money on fruits and vegetables, then they will offer a greater variety of these in more venues. I'm still free to eat sugar, but I'll be less likely to just turn to it by default. And if I want to not eat sugar, I'll have more options.