In the late 1980s, videogames and pinball machines were called the ruin of American youth. Cities and towns quickly acted to ban and restrict their use. In the '90s, tobacco became the new "hate" product in vending, and that hatred was fueled by inconsistent, twisted numbers to destroy an industry, put millions of people out of work, lose millions in tax revenue and force vending companies to scrap cigarette machines (making them obsolete) without compensation.
Now, the latest hurdle for the candy, snack and soft drink vending industry is the unrealistic mandate by the FDA to list the caloric count of all items sold in said vending machines outside the machine before the purchase is made.
In the past, the governmental agencies had failed to ask the vending industry and trade organizations for their input. They felt we were the "enemy" and would not enlighten them as to what the industry needed and the "hurdles" we had to overcome to fulfill their requirements and mandates.
Now, asking for our input and working with us, said agencies are at least aware of these hurdles of implementing their new rules and at least have an open mind to their ramifications and requirements, which are based on expenses, lost profits and the actual logistics of meeting said mandates. They now realize that the expense of doing so will be passed on to the consumer in price increases of the products vended simply because making their changes require unforeseen problems to our industry.
How does a vending company list every product within the vending machine on the outside of the machine? And how is this done when the company adds new products on a weekly basis in order to provide variety to its customers? Most vending machines have up to 41 different selections, and listing all of them would be impossible, unless the signage was so large as to cover most of the front of the machine.
In addition, if the caloric display were to be electronic instead, the purchaser would have to stand at the machine, key in the product of choice and wait to get the required information. This technology is unaffordable to the vending company. The consumer would find this makes no sense, is tedious and has no intrinsic value.
Simply posting such generalizations as "all candy bars are 180 calories" or "all potato chips are 120 calories per serving" would be incorrect. Based on the ingredients used by the manufacturer, they differ by variety, sizing, additional flavoring and additives. Therefore, each individual brand and flavor would need to be individually defined.
The irony of all of this is that the vending industry knows what government is trying to do -- have people eat better. Many vendors follow the John C. Stalker Institute of Nutrition Guidelines. We were doing this long before the public realized it and it was considered the "in" thing to do to help with proper nutrition.
If government is to engineer all phases of our lives, they shouldn't penalize certain industries. Everything should be under its microscope.
Should a pharmacy list all of their prescription drugs in front of the pharmacists' counter, stating the potential hazard before the purchase? Force all loan companies who advertise on TV to list their disclaimers in larger, readable type? Make radio advertisements for automobiles speak slowly and without gibberish at the end of their commercial so that we can understand loan payments, penalties and all restrictions?
Vending companies are only trying to sell a candy bar or refreshment, earn a living and provide a service... not split the atom or build a space shuttle. The simplicity of doing this will now be clouded by a nonsensical regulation that has no purpose.
We Americans aren't dumb.
We know that too much of anything is not good for us, whether it's eating a candy bar, sitting in the sun, gambling, smoking or taking too many vitamins. But there's another problem that's always overlooked. Sociologists call it transference: that is looking to blame someone else for the individual's choice.
When do we tell government that enough is enough?
We don't need to be told how to live every aspect of our lives and have so much regulation that we are unable to think for ourselves. Government shouldn't be trying to transfer blame to others with unrealistic regulations affecting the individual's right to choice because the government believes that choice is not a good one.
Haven't we earned the right to make those choices, take responsibility for them and stop transferring the blame?
Whether these choices are good or bad, one thing is paramount: they are our choices.
MICHAEL J. GRANDONE is owner of I.T. Vending Co. Inc., a 48-year-old vending machine operation based in Worcester, MA. This letter to the editor was original published in the local Worcester Telegram & Gazette.