Sugar has long been a popular drug consumed and even sold in schools nationwide. But concerns over health, obesity and the risk of diabetes have led some schools in California to institute a ban on sugary snacks. In response to these candy sales bans, some students are starting to deal candy bars on the "underground market" at a marked up price.
In the United States today, more than 12.5 million children and adolescents -- 17.1 percent of young people ages two to 19 are overweight. They are more likely to develop high blood pressure, high cholesterol and Type-2 diabetes. It is admirable that schools are trying to get a handle on this problem by replacing unhealthy foods with healthier options. But, as schools attempt to replace sugary treats with healthier alternatives like granola bars, business savvy students have stepped in to meet the demand by bringing candy from home or stores and reselling them at school.
Whether it's banning alcohol consumption 75 years ago, keeping illegal drugs off the streets (and out of the pharmacies) today, or the banning of sweets from the schools tomorrow, there most likely will be someone to step in and fill the void. But aside from the Economics 101 lesson of supply and demand, there are a number of important take-home lessons to be learned from the consequences of prohibition -- even the well intended prohibition of sweets.
1) Prohibition rarely works.
Despite their schools' junk-food ban, Jim Nason, principal of Victorville High School, says he sees as much soda and candy as ever. The ineffectiveness of Victorville High's ban on chocolate is not surprising when we consider the much more intense effort by all levels of government to prohibit other potentially harmful substances like illicit drugs.
After 40 years of "Just Say No" and fantasies of a "Drug-Free America," we are a country swimming in drugs. Our government spends tens of billions of dollars a year locking up hundreds of thousands of its citizens for simple drug law violations and drugs are still as plentiful as ever. Despite harsh "drug-free school zone laws" half of all high-school seniors will have tried marijuana before graduation. In fact teenagers say it is easier to get marijuana than it is to get alcohol as drug dealers don't check for IDs. By prohibiting candy, we may be contributing to its allure by creating a certain taboo around it.
2) Prohibition usually creates new and potentially worse problems.
While it is clear that prohibition rarely works, it may be less obvious how it usually creates new and possibly more dangerous problems. So how should the school punish the rule breakers who are dealing the candy? Victorville High confiscates candy and issues punishment for sales, usually detention. And what happens if this punishment doesn't work? Should repeat offenders be suspended? Should they be kicked out of school? How far are we willing to go to enforce this ban? And whose job is it to enforce these rules? Are overwhelmed teachers who are dealing with 30-plus students per class now going to spend class time searching students' bags for candy?
3) Educating our teens to make responsible choices makes more sense.
I appreciate schools and advocates who are tackling the obesity issue in our society. I understand the desire to keep our children safe and the fear of our teens developing unhealthy addictions to a range of things they consume from food and sugar to alcohol and other drugs. As a society, we should do everything we can to encourage healthy choices and after-school programs that have been shown to reduce student drug use and keep kids fit.
But let's not let our good intentions and legitimate concerns lead to solutions where the cure is worse than the disease. No phony horror stories ('try marijuana and you will turn into a homeless heroin addict') or "zero tolerance" policies that expel otherwise good students, and end up causing much more harm than good. At the end of the day, prohibition of candy - or drugs - while making us feel good, is simplistic and superficial and avoids the hard work of educating our children to make responsible choices.