New York Mayor Bloomberg suffered a defeat when his large soda ban was struck down by State Supreme Court Judge Tingling. The mayor was not deterred by the ruling though, because he now seeks a ban on displays of tobacco products in retail stores. The reasoning behind the proposal is that if children cannot see the tobacco products, they will not be tempted to buy them. The ban would also create a cultural norm. By keeping cigarettes out of sight, smoking would no longer seem normal and children would not seek to emulate such behavior. If a store is found with tobacco products on display, the store could be fined hundreds of dollars. Higher fines would be levied for repeat offenses, with fines going into the thousands.
Given how addictive tobacco is, it would be good public policy to keep children away from cigarettes. The proposed ban is redundant though. Stores are already forbidden by state law from selling cigarettes to children. Since a young person cannot legally buy cigarettes from stores, keeping them out of sight would not be deter anyone under the age of eighteen from asking for a smoke. Mayor Bloomberg would say that the point of the ban is not to keep children from buying tobacco, but to discourage children from smoking when they can legally buy the cigarettes.
Even from that standpoint though, the law does not make sense. Pornography, guns, and liquor are often kept out of children’s sight, but that does not prevent young adults from pursuing them. Indeed, hiding these vices might actually make them more attractive to young people. Children have an unfortunate need to be viewed as “grown up,” and vices which are hidden from youth often become a status symbol of age to the young. Mayor Bloomberg’s proposal would make the problem worse, not better.
The Mayor’s law might pass if it were simply redundant and ineffective. The proposed ban also carries a free speech problem though. Although displaying a product is not the first thing a person might consider speech, making a product visible does mold a store or shop’s public image. Free speech is a citizen’s right to express themselves. Stores and other businesses have a right to express what they wish to sell and the right to present themselves to the public in any manner they wish. Of course, the display ban probably would not cut into business revenue since addicts will seek out tobacco like a man dying out hunger will seek out food. However, individual rights have never been tied to profits. Rights are an end, not a means to more money.
Mayor Bloomberg’s large soda ban was struck down by Judge Tingling partly because it violated the separation of powers. The soda ban was mainly a creation of the Board of Health, an executive committee appointed by the Mayor of New York. The New York City Council, the city’s actual legislative body, needs to be more involved in the process more. The mayor might not be fond of individual rights, but ignoring the legislative process will harm both businesses and children.