For the next 45 days, we'll be celebrating Reason's 45th anniversary by releasing a story a day from the archives—one for each year of the magazine's history. See the full list here.
Writing in Reason's January 1996 issue, Jacob Sullum explained how the public health establishment invited government meddling in our private lives by treating risky behavior like a communicable disease:
Americans no longer live in terror of smallpox or cholera. Despite occasional outbreaks of infectious diseases such as rabies and tuberculosis, the fear of epidemics that was once an ac cepted part of life is virtually unknown. The one major exception is AIDS, which is not readily transmitted and remains largely confined to a few high-risk groups. For the most part, Americans die of things you can't catch: cancer, heart disease, trauma. Accordingly, the public health estab lishment is focusing on those causes and the factors underlying them. Having vanquished most true epidemics, it has turned its attention to metaphorical "epidemics" such as smoking, obesity, and suicide. Along the way, the public health establishment has become the most influential lobby for ever-increasing government control over Americans' personal choices.