Seeing that the U.K. is banning junk-food advertising during children's programming was timely for me. After all, last night I was paging through my latest copy of Reason magazine and noted recurring examples of silly (albeit disturbing) British bans. Hearing about the fatty-foods ad ban today made me ponder this ban-happy trend and how things stand here in the U.S.

I can't help but wonder if McDonald's (NYSE:MCD) Ronald McDonald might join that crazy-looking, big-headed Burger King (NYSE:BKC) King in preparing resumes here in the States as well, should advertising take that route. Wendy's (NYSE:WEN) Wendy might, too, despite the fact that there are child labor laws, of course. We might all find those iconic characters silly, but let's face it, anybody could argue they have more than passing appeal for children (although that one ad about waking up in bed next to the Burger King was a good excuse for night terrors for folks of any age).

Anyway, the U.S. may be known for the great success of capitalism, but bans seem to be cropping up frequently right here, too. New York City's recent trans-fat ban springs to mind. (We did a comical rundown of the top 10 other things Manhattan might ban, and "fun" bubbled to the top of the list -- after all, there's a good chance one might break a leg or have a heart attack from too much fun, right?)

San Francisco, another city that often seems to really relish a good ban, recently ordered that aromatic ads at five bus stops be pulled down and is also considering a ban on such ads. The problem: These strips from CBS's (NYSE:CBS) CBS Outdoor emanated the scent of chocolate chip cookies, with the intention of peddling oh, say it isn't so -- milk (for the California Milk Processor Board). City officials made the move after activists said the scented strips might trigger allergies and asthma attacks in some people. (The alleged dangers of second-hand cookie scent might make you wonder if you ought to keep your fresh Mrs. Field's to yourself.)

Honestly, trying to trigger a buying impulse in children (or a subliminal buying impulse in any of us through something like "aromamarketing") does strike me as pretty low. And fast-food joints are no strangers to playing Pied Piper to kids, given their tendency to feature play areas and toy offerings. However, although some such advertising might fall short of what many people perceive as ethical (and of course, not all advertising does), I'd like to think it's free to happen. After all, last I heard it's the parents' jobs to say "no" and to explain to children the nature of advertising. Learning the difference between a marketing pitch and what you really want or need is an important part of learning essential life skills -- for instance, critical thought and healthy skepticism. Further, companies often get publicly lambasted for ad campaigns that go over the line (for example, Sony's (NYSE:SNE) recent fake blog seems to have soundly backfired).

I also find bans interesting (and odd) in light of what I see as two recent, strong trends: evidence that traditional TV advertising is becoming increasingly less effective (which many of us might theorize is combined with consumers' increasing distrust of and annoyance with it), as well as growing access to other means of information. After all, people can use their TiVos (NASDAQ:TIVO) and other DVRs to circumvent TV ads, and there's evidence that consumers are using the Internet to help them make purchasing decisions. Meanwhile, public opinion and attention regularly convinces companies to voluntarily make changes. Consider many fast-food restaurants' moves to alter menus and eliminate trans-fats on their own, not to mention increased mainstream attention to "food ethics." Such pressures exhibit the market -- and folks' discriminating taste -- in action.

Some of us believe that everyone should be free to make their own decisions, for good and for ill, and to take personal responsibility by educating themselves and their children on healthy choices. And of course, with personal responsibility comes the idea that people can vote with their wallets on what they want to purchase or support. This recent ban buzz implies that some people doubt consumers can (or perhaps, should) make their own decisions, and that's troubling to me.

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Alyce Lomax does not own shares of any of the companies mentioned.