Mayor Bloomberg really, really, really doesn't want you to smoke
Wow. Mayor Michael Bloomberg is not content with jacking up taxes on cigarettes, or making it a crime to smoke just about anywhere except your own home.
Now the crusading mayor wants to micromanage convenience stores by dictating where they can place their products and how much they can charge for them.
Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg opened a new front in his antismoking campaign last week when he proposed new legislation that would require stores to keep tobacco products out of sight, making New York the first city in the nation to do so.
Its companion bill, however, has the potential to be just as groundbreaking, experts on tobacco control said. Along with strengthening the penalties on retailers that evade tobacco taxes, the second bill establishes a minimum price for cigarettes and cigarillos, or little cigars, of $10.50 a pack, the first time such a strategy has been used to combat smoking. The bill also prohibits retailers from redeeming coupons or offering other discounts, like two-for-one deals.
"This is kind of a landmark set of proposals here," said Kurt Ribisl, a professor of public health at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, whose research on tobacco control influenced Mr. Bloomberg's proposal. "For someone like me, who's spent 18 years studying point-of-sale issues, this is kind of big."
Dr. Ribisl studies what happens at the retail counter, where a customer at a typical convenience store sees a colorful array of signs, packaging and "shelf talkers" -- the small tags that flutter from shelves -- promoting two-for-one, dollar-off and other types of deals. According to a Federal Trade Commission report issued last year, the tobacco industry spent $6.5 billion on discounts in 2010, and Dr. Ribisl said they are one of the major ways cigarette makers encourage price-conscious customers like teenagers and low-income smokers to buy.
New York's price-regulation bill would, in effect, close off the remaining means of access to cheap cigarettes and little cigars, which make it easier for teenagers to experiment with smoking, and progress to smoking regularly, said Brett Loomis, a researcher at RTI International, a nonprofit institute that offers research and technical services to governments and businesses.
My guess is, there aren't too many chain smokers in New York City anymore. A three pack a day habit costs as much as a heroin dose.
Discouraging people from smoking is one thing. But why pick on retailers? Either they are selling a legitimate product - or they aren't. If they are selling a legitimate product, they should be able to market that product to their customers in any way they believe will generate the most sales.
This all plays into the incredible hypocrisy of government when it comes to cigarettes. They are bad for you. They kill you. But go ahead and buy them so that we can rake in the tax dollars while we piously proclaim that we are limiting your freedom for your own good.
Micromanaging retail outlets by telling owners where they can place their products (I feel exactly the same way about government telling stores they can't display girlie magazines), and setting a floor under the price of a product is unnecessary. A pack of cigarettes is not an impulse buy. Hiding them won't prevent anyone from purchasing them. And as study after study has shown, making them more expensive hurts the people least able to afford them.