With the clocking ticking closer to midnight on his mayoral legacy, Michael Bloomberg is banning as fast as he can.
In the era of “Yes, We Can,” Michael Bloomberg has long staked his legacy on “No, You Can’t.” In the soon-to-be 12 years since he became Gotham’s Technocrat-in-Chief, Bloomberg has managed to ban, or try to ban: (in no particular order):
- Trans fats
- Food donations to homeless shelters
- Soft drinks
- Fatty foods (mandatory calorie counters in restaurants)
- Outdoor smoking
Bloomberg’s nanny-ish reach has been so broad that in his waning months he’s repeating himself. Hizzoner’s latest ban plan? Hide cigarettes from public view:
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is pushing for a new citywide law requiring stores to physically conceal cigarettes and other tobacco products behind counters, curtains or cabinets—anywhere out of public view—as part of a new anti-smoking initiative.
The legislation would also increase penalties on the smuggling and illegal sales of cigarettes as part of an effort that Bloomberg said would help curb the youth smoking rate and promote a healthier New York City.
Three out of every five cigarettes smoked in New York City were “smuggled” – purchased over state lines where the $4.35 per pack expense, not counting the additional $1.50 per pack levied in New York City, wasn’t an issue. So while smoking in New York is at historic lows (14% according to polling in 2011), most of those gains occurred from 2002 to 2007 – before Bloomberg’s more recent tobacco initiatives to ban workplace and outdoor smoking were set in motion.
Bloomberg isn’t likely to receive much push-back to his latest move. Hitting tobacco is often a political winner and as nanny-state legislation goes, moving tobacco products behind the counter isn’t much of a reach. Bloomberg’s past comments on tobacco put this latest move to shame, with Bloomberg even suggesting that children have the right to sue their parents if they’re exposed to second-hand smoke.
But Bloomberg’s acknowledgment that his past legislation has made underground tobacco sales Gotham’s latest cottage industry stands in stark contrast with his attitudes on marijuana. Last June, in concert with New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s move to downgrade possession of pot from a misdemeanor to a violation, Bloomberg chimed in that he would “limit” enforcement of New York City laws against marijuana.
So pot’s okay. But a Big Gulp demands immediate legislation.
But of course, marijuana isn’t tobacco when it comes to the effect on health. Right? A 2012 study at the University of Alabama garnered some press for the headline that marijuana wasn’t as bad for your lungs as tobacco. As usual, the substance of the research was buried by the lede. Smoking marijuana, the study concurred, leads to chronic coughing, wheezing and potentially chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). The study even admitted that longer term research would be required to see what the rate of lung cancer was among long-term pot users. Or as one quoted researcher simply put it, “casual or recreational marijuana use is not a safe alternative to tobacco smoking.”
By his actions, Bloomberg demonstrates a capricious sense of how to use the bully pulpit of the mayor’s office. Marijuana restrictions need to be eased because enforcement has not only failed but is as likely to hurt the causal user as the hardcore dealer. Tobacco restrictions need to be tightened even as Bloomberg acknowledges that his previous efforts have driven demand underground. Tobacco users, who legally purchase a legal product over state lines need to be taught a lesson. Marijuana users, who use a product that is currently illegal, are due leniency.
The macro issues of the Drug War aside, at a minimum, Michael Bloomberg has a high threshold for irony.