After his soda ban was struck down by lawmakers, Mayor Bloomberg is now seeking yet another seemingly futile ban against displaying cigarettes in convenience stores. If it passes, New York will be the first city in the country to ban in-store cigarette displays, although parts of Canada and Europe have successfully banned tobacco sales.
Critics of the mayor say he is still bracing after a painstakingly careful campaign to weed out sodas, or “sugary drinks,” over 16 ounces. But does the out-of-sight, out-of-mind rule ring true for cigarettes? It turns out more is at stake than just sheer health consciousness: both political and racial implications are affecting policy as the mayor heads into the final stretch of his last term.
The Bloomberg administration maintains that cigarettes need to be taken off the shelves for the safety of the children. According to the administration, via CBS News, “Children who are frequently exposed to tobacco product displays are two-and-a-half times more likely to start smoking.”
Bloomberg vows that if he can save just one child from becoming a smoker, the initiative will be worthwhile. Since assuming office in 2002, Bloomberg has put big bucks into his health initiative. He has spent approximately $1.5 billion a year in the health department on banning trans fats, requiring restaurant chains to post calories on their menus, and smoking initiatives.
Even with all these initiatives, he has still been met with great opposition, especially from small business owners. One such convenience store owner, Jim Calvin, the President of the Albany-based New York Association of Convenience Stores, told Bloomberg News, “Retailers have a fundamental right to communicate with their customers about what they sell by displaying those products.”
He went on to assert that there is no direct connection between displaying products like beer, cigarettes, or lotto tickets and encouraging youth to pick up the bad habits of drinking, smoking, and gambling. Depending on who you talk to, either convenience store owners who are trying to sell products or politicians who are trying to save tax dollars, the argument for banning the display of tobacco, or selling large sodas, can fall on either side.
Both the tobacco and soda ban have effectively become a political tool used by various groups and minorities to assert their rights while pocketing vast sums of money.
According to the New York Times’ Nick Confessore, who said in a recent op-ed, “Dozens of Hispanic and African-American civil rights groups, health advocacy organizations, and business associations have joined the beverage industry in opposing soda regulation ... many of these groups have something else in common: They are among the recipients of tens of millions of dollars from the beverage industry.”
This is a similar ploy used by big tobacco companies in the 70s that offered support to minority and women’s organizations in order to target separate concerns from smoking.
Bloomberg perhaps is just as guilty as big tobacco was then as he is now of using his influence to sway opinions. He’s just pushing something healthy instead of deadly and will use any means necessary to achieve his end goal. As Ben Smith of BuzzFeed writes, “his political success has been premised, in no small part, on the thick coating of private money he’s spread around to some of the same community groups, an investment repaid in political support, if not policy allegiance.”
While such conspiracy theories may seem a bit harsh given the mayor is trying to prevent kids from smoking and Americans from becoming more obese, even the most altruistic plans can quickly become radicalized and politicized when left up to public interpretation.