At Modeled Behavior, Adam Ozimek rightly points out that government regulation of salt content in food as proposed by the Institute of Medicine represents a terrible infringement on personal freedom. But to illustrate one half of his slippery slope argument, Ozimek sites Glen Whitman’s point about smoking bans migrating from airplanes to just about everywhere.

In the process, Ozimek misses a fundamental difference between smoking and salt consumption and sells short his argument against salt regulation. Smoking has extreme, documented, and immediate negative externalities associated with its occurrence around others. It smells, it irritates the eyes and throat, and it causes cancer, all to people who aren’t participating willingly or enjoying any of the upside. Salt on the other hand has none of these effects. If you sit next to me swallowing fistfuls of salt, it has no effect on me.

The only negative externality of salt consumption arises if you get sick as a result and I have to pay for it, and this is a reason for me to avoid paying your healthcare costs more than a reason to force you not to eat salt. This makes the argument against salt regulation much stronger than that against smoking regulation. Linking the two only undermines former.

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