Who's the boss: how Mayor Bloomberg redefines government control
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Who's the boss: how Mayor Bloomberg redefines government control

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February 19, 2011, 2:35 pm
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Mayor Bloomberg has no business deciding what I should and cannot eat.
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By: Reynold N. Mason JD

Atlanta, Feb. 19, 2011    It has been nearly nine years since New York City placed a ban on smoking in restaurants and bars. Just last week the New York City Council voted to ban smoking in parks and beaches. Many feel the government is beginning to control more and more of our daily lives. Smoking will be banned in 1,700 parks and on 14 miles of beaches. “I truly believe government is being too restrictive in his particular matter,” said Robert Jackson, Democrat of Harlem.

“It’s a totalitarian society that’s going to have this type of restrictions … As someone who wants to breathe clean air, I think we are going too far and being intrusive.” Said 25-year-old New Yorker, George, the city is taking it too far. I think it’s  ridiculous”.  No one doubts that indulging in the habit of smoking tobacco is bad for one’s health, and even the health of non-smokers in the smoker’s immediate environment. That fact has been established for years. Every pack of cigarettes sold in the U.S bears the ominous warning: The Surgeon General Has Determined that Cigarette Smoking is Dangerous to Your Health.  Only the blind would miss the reams of anti-smoking literature cluttering our printed media.

The Mayor has turned his anti-smoking zeal into a crusade

When it comes to smoking, some, like Mayor Bloomberg of New York, have turned their zeal  into  a take no prisoners crusade, designed to banish smoking from civil society, trampling  peoples freedoms in the process. Mayor Bloomberg, a reformed smoker, having learned his lesson, aims to teach it to all New Yorkers, willing or not.  In 2003, he implemented a ban on smoking indoors. Many people had serious concerns that the indoor smoking ban infringed the rights of property owners, to whom the law leaves decisions as to what use an owner makes their property, so long as that use does fly in the face of the law. But the indoor smoking ban has something going for it. It has some connection, tenuous though it is, with the health of the people who are employed in establishments that allow smoking. But now, the Mayor, is on a tear. 

He, along with fellow billionaire, Bill Gates has tossed $500,000 of his own money into the burning issue of tobacco smoking. He has launched the Bloomberg Initiative which aims to banish the habit like the plague. As they say, charity begins at home. So where better to snuff out the cancer sticks than the Mayor’s own fiefdom,  New York City. With utmost fervor, the Mayor has extended his smoking ban outdoors, to City parks and all 14 miles of New York City’s beaches, and other public spaces. He wants not a whiff of smoke in the open air. If you can smell it, it could be killing you.

Soot and smoke from exhaust pipes can kill you as well

I grant Mr. Mayor, that my decision to smoke should not put the health of my neighbor at risk. But the ban on smoking in parks at beaches and other outdoor areas goes too far. Let’s face it, were we that concerned about the risk of smoke as a carcinogen in the environment, Manhattan would be as deserted as the Sahara during rush hour. Soot and smoke coming from exhaust pipes are  among the most deadly forms of airborne pollution. U.S. cars and light trucks alone account for more energy-related CO2 than the nationwide emissions of all but four other countries in the world (China, Russia, Japan, and India). It smacks of hypocrisy to single out trace amounts of cigarette smoke as the single pollutant in the air deserving of the full force of the Mayor’s bile.  Even more quixotic, the crusader- in- chief is bleeding smokers while, at the same time banishing them from public view. The Mayor hates the player but loves the game. 

But where there’s smoke, there’s   taxes.  New York has the highest cigarette taxes in the country.  Starting July 1, every pack sold in the state will cost an extra $1.60, raising the total state tax to $4.35 and pushing the average cost of a pack up to $9.20. For New York City residents, the cost of a pack will now come out to close to $11.00. This sin tax is a bonanza for the city, which has now rendered smokers scofflaws.  It is now easier to find a parking space than a smoking space in Manhattan. Mayor Bloomberg’s anti-smoking fervor has earned him awards and, he is not alone in his antipathy toward smoking.  Like-minded  zealots  in  other localities have already managed to enact bans on smoking similar to New York City’s. 

At last count, at least 13 states had gone smoke-free. These “Nanny State” zealots  have  even focused their angry gaze on the very food on our plates. When the mayor pushed through a ban on the use of Trans fat in restaurant food he said the ban is “not going to take away anybody’s ability to go out and have the kind of food they want. . . . We are just trying to make food safer.”  It’s for our own good. But who appointed the Mayor director of menu development  and dietitian-in-chief? This is utterly tyrannical. Trans fat, like cigarette smoke, is just one of the substances that can put our health at risk. According to the American Council on Science, it makes up about 2% of the calories we take in. It can raise the “bad cholesterol” but so can saturated fats which, according to the American Council on Science make up 10-15% of our caloric  intake.

These crusaders take small bites, eating away, bit by little bit, our right to decide these questions for ourselves. If the Mayor can tell a restaurant not to put trans fat in the meal it serves, what is to prevent him from prescribing the size of the portions they serve? Rather than putting a label on food spelling out the calories, the dietitian-in-Chief can ram through a law setting a legal limit on the size of portion the restaurant is allowed to serve.

The Mayor should impose a fat tax on people who eat junk food

Just such proposals have been floated by the Center for Science in the Public Interest. These PhD’s  have a list of foods they do not want us to consume. They, like the Mayor, are just trying to make our food safer. They aim to find their way into our kitchens, “because that’s where the food is.” And like Willie Sutton, they will dictate to us what we ought not to eat at the point of the legislative pen. The Center for Science in the Public interest has published what it labels “Proposed Food Policy options” that it touts as a model for lawmakers. These proposals call for a ban on the sale of “low nutrition food” on school grounds; (That means no soft drink

s, sports drinks, sweet tea, fruit punch or anything with caffeine ) a ban commercial of these foods and beverages as well as brands associated with unhealthy products; a limit  on the number of fast food outlets near schools, and a ban the sale of  these foods near schools during the school day. These policy changes, they say, can be accomplished through legislation, regulation zoning and litigation. Ban them and, if they put up a fight then litigate the money right out of their coffers. These proposals, farfetched and intrusive as they appear to be, eventually make their way into our public policy. The Center for Science in the Public Interest’s proposal nearly became law in New York  just last year. Strapped for cash, governor Patterson tried but failed to implement one of the Centers proposals….“Levy taxes on sugar- sweetened beverages and use the money to pay for obesity prevention. . .” New Yorkers, with an outcry heard all the way to the State House in Albany, turned back governor’s Patterson’s soda tax. 

And they did so despite being told that “sugar-sweetened beverages  play a significant role in New York’s obesity epidemic” and that “by adding a small tax on soda we can reduce consumption of these empty calories and make real progress toward making New Yorkers healthier.”  But why should one new Yorker  pay more because his neighbor chooses to  live a destructive lifestyle and live on junk food? Americans consume huge quantities of soft drinks, which promote obesity and other health problems. Obesity alone according to Center for Science in the Public Interest, costs $147 billion a year in medical expenditures, half of which are paid through Medicare and Medicaid. How about a FAT tax! Obesity costs the health care system far more than smokers do. The Center for Science in the Public Interest has model legislation that will “ban candy near check counters” and “limit portion sizes” of the food we purchase at restaurants. Hungry New Yorkers had better watch out. These hapless, self-centered bureaucrats don’t trust us to make decisions about what to eat. They mean well, but they are misguided. To propose a regulation that bans candy near the checkout counter is way out there in La La Land. Wherever that may be, it is a place where things float about untethered  from common sense.

My diet is none of the Mayor’s business

Mayor Bloomberg has accolades heaped on him for “incentivizing healthy eating” because of his ban on trans fat in New York restaurants.  But what New Yorkers chose to eat in none of the Mayor’s business. It is their health that is put at risk and no one else’s.  They have the right to eat whatever they please. I suggest Mr. Mayor,  that you and your  food police focus on cleaning up the snow on City Street before it keeps an ambulance from reaching someone having a heart attack brought on by clogged arteries. 

This is America Mr. Mayor. You have no business deciding for me what I should and cannot eat.  My parents made me eat my spinach because they believed it to be good for me. But they were my parents. Were I to consume sodas, burger and fries and become a fat blob, then I am the one that's fat not anyone else.  My decision to drink soda like a sponge hurts no one but me.   We elected you Mr. Mayor to protect, life liberty and our pursuit of happiness.  If our happiness means burgers and fries washed down with a 20 ounce soda then so be it.   It is not your business as Mayor to dictate what I eat.  Neither my parents nor my nanny, had I one, could fine me or have me locked up for eating candy.

But you Mr. Mayor, can deprive me of my liberty and, with the power of the police that my taxes pay for, you can coerce and compel me and keep me from taking a puff of my cigarette under the open skies, though I violate no one’s liberty.  These bans, restrictions and regulations  foisted on the citizenry for their own good,  strip people of the autonomy that  individuals, capable of making decisions for themselves, possess. We must oppose and defeat them.

Author: Reynold Mason
Reynold N. Mason teaches law courses at Zenover Educational Institute In Atlanta, Georgia. He has been a judge on New York City Civil Court and, a Justice on New York State Supreme Court. Mason has been an adjunct professor of law at Medgar Evers College and Monroe College in New York. He has authored several legal opinions published in New York Miscellaneous Reports and New York Official Reports as well as the New York Law Journal. He lives in Atlanta.
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