Smoking Bans

Mayor Bloomberg Is Trying to Create Prohibition Lite

Bloomberg and his confederates have effectively nudged thousands of smokers and shopkeepers into criminal behavior.


Remember when the Food and Drug Administration wanted to festoon every pack of cigarettes with striking imagery of sallow corpses, bawling babies, and throat-holes belching smoke like 19th century London factories? On June 22, 2009, President Obama signed the Family Prevention and Tobacco Control Act into law, a portion of which mandated that the front and rear panel of each cigarette pack had to include "color graphics depicting the negative health consequences of smoking."

Two days later, the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene decided the packaging wasn't enough: It wanted the city's 10,000 or so licensed tobacco retailers to "prominently display point-of-sale warnings and cessation messages" – i.e., poster-sized versions of the theatrical, highly stylized warning images.

alphadesigner / photo on flickr

Tobacco companies contested the 2009 law, and in August 2012, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia found that the warning images portion of it was unconstitutional. In the words of the Court, many of the images failed to "convey any warning information at all, much less make an 'accurate statement' about cigarettes," and were instead "unabashed attempts to evoke emotion (and perhaps embarrassment) and browbeat consumers into quitting."

Unable to inhibit cigarette sales through brazen, horror-show imagery, public health officials are now retreating to Victorian-era discretion. Earlier this week, Mayor Bloomberg introduced legislation that, if passed, will require tobacco retailers to sequester their products in "cabinets, drawers, under the counter, behind a curtain or in any other concealed location." Only during the act of purchase or restocking will such bounty be legally visible.

Believe it or not, the rationale behind this measure appears to be a videogame of sorts. A study funded by the New York State Department presented 1,216 teen participants, aged 13 to 17, with one of six simulated convenience stores. In two of the stores, cigarettes were openly displayed behind the counter. In the other four, the cigarettes were hidden behind solid cabinet doors that bore a logo identifying them as the store's "Cigarette Center." (In these four stores, varying degrees of cigarette advertising were present as well.)

Participants were told to buy four items, including two from the counter area. You don't need a degree in retail merchandising to guess how this played out: In the two stores where cigarettes were openly displayed, teens purchased cigarettes more often than they did when the cigarettes were hidden.

Now, it may be that all this study really proves is that teens are logical virtual shoppers. Participants were incented with the promise of $6.50 in e-Rewards dollars upon completion of their task, and they conducted the exercise in comparatively rapid fashion, finishing in an average of 172.3 seconds. (In real life, the study states, the average teen spends around 16 minutes in a typical visit to a convenience store.) Perhaps, in an effort to maximize their efficiency, they simply focused their attention on items that seemed most readily available.

What we can more certainly conclude from this study – or at least from the legislation that has followed in its wake – is that Mayor Bloomberg is determined to bend the city's appetites to his will through the supposedly benevolent mechanism of choice architecture.

Choice architecture is the practice of designing environments in ways that are meant to incite or at least favor specific actions and behaviors, without actually forcing outcomes on anyone. Putting cigarettes and candy near cash registers, where the possibility of an impulse buy is high, is one form of it. So is designing casinos in ways that encourage you to lose track of time. (In most casinos, windows and clocks are rarer than royal flushes).

In recent years, the idea that choice architecture can encourage positive behaviors as well as negative ones has grown increasingly popular, as has the idea that governments should engage in the practice. For example, if you use multiple, socialized garbage containers to help you separate your coffee grounds from your Budweiser empties, you're participating in government-mandated choice architecture. If you balk at ordering a cranberry orange scone at Starbucks with your morning coffee because there's a tiny sign next to it reminding you it contains 490 calories, thank the nearest bureaucrat.

If you don't like the way a casino implements choice architecture, you don't have to patronize it. If you don't like the way the government implements choice architecture, well, just give it a little more consideration and maybe you'll see the light.

Certainly the encomiums to government-mandated choice architecture have been growing increasingly fervent. In 2010, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced his plans to purge candy and soda from school cafeterias and fill vending machines with "nutritious offerings" as part of a campaign to "make the healthy choice the easy choice." In Feburary 2012, Michelle Obama, whose Let's Move! campaign is ostensibly devoted to giving people "access to a wide range of choices," successfully lobbied for Snickers Bar control. More recently, Mayor Bloomberg tried to make 12 oz. Pepsis the (legislatively constrained) choice of a new generation, and now, on the heels of that unsuccessful effort, he wants to put cigarettes under lock and key, or at least hide them behind some sufficiently thick drapes.

In response, a New York Daily News op-ed insists that "putting the cigarettes behind the counter actually increases liberty." It does this, its author, Carnegie Mellon professor George Loewenstein, explains, because the open display of cigarettes in shops confronts smokers "head-on with temptation, [making] it more difficult for them to implement the choice to quit that so many want to make."

In essence Loewenstein is saying that if we just had fewer options, we'd make better choices! Throughout history, no temperance advocate has ever said otherwise.

In New York City, the adult smoking rate is 14 percent. In the nation at large, it's 19.3 percent. But the city hasn't achieved this public health victory through the expansion of liberty. Instead, it has substantially curtailed personal choice. It's illegal to light up a cigarette in restaurants, bars, plazas, parks, and beaches. In December 2012, the New York Post reported that the city's Health Department was planning to offer $10,000 payments to community groups that convinced property managers to adopt smoke-free policies in their apartment buildings. And because of taxes imposed at the state and city level, a single pack of cigarettes costs anywhere from $10 to $13. In comparison, according to the National Drug Intelligence Center, a bag of heroin could be purchased in New York City for between $5—$12 as recently as 2008.

Alas, making tobacco nearly as illegal and expensive as a Schedule I drug doesn't just result in impressive public health gains – there are social costs as well. According to one recent study, New York City smokers with an annual income of less than $30,000 now spend 23.6 percent of that income on cigarettes! That's more than double the amount they were spending ten years ago, and yet smoking rates of the city's lowest-income residents have only declined a few percentage points in that time.

Meanwhile, in an effort to subvert New York City's alleged expansion of liberty, smokers have adopted numerous methods for getting cigarettes more cheaply. Nearby Indian reservations do a brisk trade selling tax-free cigarettes. Roll-your-own shops, which weren't subject to the same taxes as packaged cigarettes until new federal legislation was enacted last year, offered another alternative. And thousands of shops in New York City simply sell smuggled cigarettes. According to the city's Finance Commissioner David Frankel, 46 percent of the 1,900 retailers that were inspected over the last 18 months were "selling unstamped or untaxed product."

Here we see choice architecture at work in insidious fashion: By making a legal but unhealthy product increasingly unaffordable, Mayor Bloomberg and his confederates have effectively nudged thousands of smokers and shopkeepers into criminal behavior. Now, he wants to raise the stakes by increasing the penalties for the behaviors he's induced. A second new piece of legislation he's initiating, the "Sensible Tobacco Enforcement" bill, will, if passed, increase financial penalties for selling untaxed cigarettes and give the Department of Finance the power to shut down repeat violators. Light up and inhale the cool liberating flavor of Prohibition Lite.

NEXT: Majority Supports "Path to Citizenship"

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  1. Do the nitwits who voted for Nanny Bloomberg have any self respect whatsoever?

    Who in their right minds would vote for a guy like this who micromanages every damned thing?

    They’re pathetic.

    1. Tough ass New YAWKERS, man! TOUGH ass New Yawkers!

    2. Do the nitwits who voted for Nanny Bloomberg have any self respect whatsoever?


    3. No, pussies, and I concur.

    4. Quebec did this years ago. Yet Quebecers still smoke more than the average Canadian. They simply, as the article points out, head to Kahnawake reserves and buy cigarettes. In a way, it’s good provincial and federal power does not extend to the Natives.

      About Bloomberg. That dude spooks me. To him, this is a righteous issue. Why else do what he does? Worse, if you are to interview the average New Yorker (or Quebecers for that matter) the simple equation of ‘cigarettes bad for you ergo ok for government to erode freedom of choice’ is a natural one.

      This is where it all falls apart.

  2. the average teen spends around 16 minutes in a typical visit to a convenience store

    This is the most-interesting tidbit from this otherwise barftastic, too long article. Really? SIXTEEN minutes? I don’t believe it….pics or it didn’t happen!

    Also…never mind.

    1. The average teen is *that* wasted.


      1. That doesn’t explain it. I’m pretty sure I could pass out in a convenience store aisle and still make it out in less than 16 minutes.

    2. I’ve spent less time than that in a convenience while it was being robbed.

  3. Through college I worked in a convenience store that prominently displayed tobacco products and ads, yet I never picked up the habit. Strange how people actually can make choices for themselves huh?

    1. Why, that’s just crazy talk! Next thing you know, you’re going to try to convince me that people wouldn’t just tilt their heads back and drown in the rain like turkeys without a benevolent government to forbid it!


      1. Fucking hilarious.

      2. Hmm..never tried that. Is it legal?

    2. Come on man, everyone knows the goverment has a much better grasp of the choices we need to make.

  4. Never thought about it like that dude.

    1. Neither, anon-bot, has Bloomberg.

  5. failed to “convey any warning information at all, much less make an ‘accurate statement’ about cigarettes guns,” and were instead “unabashed attempts to evoke emotion (and perhaps embarrassment) and browbeat consumers into quitting.”

    Too bad the court can’t rule on this.

  6. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Bloomberg may bill himself as trying to impress knowledge on the ignorant, but he’s really just trying to impose his own values on other people.

    The difference between what he’s doing and what fundamentalists do in the South with Sunday Blue Laws is just a matter of aesthetic preferences–he’s using the same tactics they do.

    So maybe he isn’t using the law to impose his own religious values on other people–but he’s still imposing his own values on the rest of us. He’s basically a prude.

    These agnostic types imagine that imposing their beliefs on the rest of us is okay because their motivation isn’t religious, but that’s bullshit. They’re just manufacturing a godless state religion out of pet peeves.

    1. I think that about sums it up, Ken.

      “For your own good” and all that.

      I have my prejudices – Porsche drivers, for example – but I have no intention of banning the sale of Porsches.

      1. I know several very nice people who drive Porsches.


        1. Seriously. Never understood associating people with the brands they use. “All people who drive BMW’s are jerks” and the like.

          My father drove a BMW in the 80s. He came from another country worked his ass off and bought himself a deserved gift. Yet, he was grouped into that leftist mentality where people who drive (or wear certain clothing) as being some sort of capitalistic rapist.

          This attitude is prevalent in Quebec.

    2. ^Agree^^

      The libtard case- we’re not imposing religious values, these values that are GOOD for people.

      They want to see a difference, as you say, so they can impose their values on other people. Is this a case of a distinction without a difference, or just a case of no fucking different, but they are too unprincipled to understand?

    3. So maybe he isn’t using the law to impose his own religious values

      Of course he is. The asshole worships himself.


      1. He’s his own Moses, and he’s delivering his own commandments.

    4. “their motivation isn’t religious”? I got two word for you and they’re “bull” and “shit”. Socialism has its prophets and martyrs and its schisms and heresies, and true believers keep right on believing not just without evidence, but in the face of countervailing evidence. Socialism (Communism) most certainly is a religion. And it just goes to show that religion without a god is even worse than the old-fashioned kind.

  7. You know what Bloomberg reminds me of?

    Auguste Cote, Positivism, and the Religion of Humanity.…..f_humanity

    There is nothing new under the sun.

    1. Funny, Ken, I thought you were going to say that he reminded you of yourself when the discussion was AGW.

      1. Arguing that we should use AGW as an opportunity to persuade people to get rid of the coercive income tax (and replace it with a less coercive sales tax) isn’t me using the government to impose my own views on other people.

        It’s more like using my views to persuade other people to impose less coercion on the government.

      2. And, honestly, if we libertarians have neglected to offer libertarian solutions to climate change so thoroughly that my fellow libertarians can’t even imagine environmental solutions that don’t smack of socialism, then we libertarians should be working the AGW angle a whole lot harder.

        The left uses every issue that comes up to make the case for more government; there ain’t no reason we can’t do the same–to make the case for less government. Hell, isn’t that what Hit & Run is all about?

        There are very few problems that don’t have libertarian solutions, and any libertarian who can’t think of one is an embarrassment to the movement.

        1. Ken, your repeated strawman notwithstanding, there IS NO AGW “problem”. IF the effect of mankind is even detectable, it is far from evident to any but those who wish to enslave us “for our own good”, just like Bloomturd, that increased warming would be fucking great for the human race, as a whole.

          Read that last bit again, I even bolded it for you. The miniscule temperature increases claimed by the AGW crowd would be, without doubt, a boon to humanity. Cold weather kills 3x as many people as heat. Warmer temperatures mean longer growing seasons and less permafrost and more arable land. Easier access through the Northwest Passage would save billions.

          Why do you hate the human race, Ken? I know that human hatred is the basis for most “environmentalists” who consider humans and human activity “unnatural”. What is your reason?

          How is your insistence upon a problem which I do not believe exists any different than Bloomturd’s insistence upon a problem that I don’t believe exists? The “science”? Doesn’t he also have “science” backing up what he claims? The fact that you have worked it up to “global catastrophe” changes everything? Just look at the computer models?!!

        2. The AGW ‘problem’ is that something as solidly scientific as phrenology is being used as a rationale for massive intervention into society as a whole by the big government crowd. It’s even a bigger cudgel for the bastards than ‘it’s for the chiiiiiiildren’. Jeez, even Ron Bailey has guzzled that brand of kool-aid.

          It may well be past the point of convincing the jingoistic, that sounds really good ‘low information’ voters that they’ve been feasting on bullshit sandwiches to get that nice, warm ‘I’m DOING something’ feeling, and it’s going to take an almost complete flop of just about every hair brained ‘solution’ that’s been concocted before people catch on to the scam.

          The hardest may well be getting people to figure out that diverting corn, and the land used to grow it, out of supplying the human food chain, and using it to fuel cars is probably one of the most galactically stupid schemes mankind has yet devised. And the farmers getting a buttload of subsidies and almost guaranteed high dollar prices for doing so aren’t really going to be very happy about having that gravy train come to an end. But it sure needs to.

        3. can’t even imagine environmental solutions that don’t smack of socialism…

          There are no libertarian solutions to non-libertarian problems. The climate is not a “problem” to be “solved” in any sense, but particularly not in a libertarian one. Unless and until you can demonstrate material damages caused to Y by X. And I don’t think even Michael Mann would be so bold.

  8. “…he was taken to a mental health hospital, but left without being cured ?”

    Damn, that could be Bloomberg.

  9. A study funded by the New York State Department presented 1,216 teen participants, aged 13 to 17, with one of six simulated convenience stores.

    If even one of the kids in that study started smoking after seeing openly displayed simulated cigarettes wouldn’t that be one too many for Bloomberg? Time to start banning studies.

  10. I wonder at what point the big government nannies will throw off all prentense and move for all non-compliants to be subjected to the Ludovico Technique?

  11. But the question is, can gays marry in New York?

    If he so, then New York is free. Freer than the greatest libertarian Utopia imagined by the works Ayn Rand.

    In Canada, gay marriages and pot (apparently) are both legal. What haven’t you libertarians kicked Uncle Sam’s balls and left for Canada?

    What’s that? There are other civil liberties that must be protected, even if they’re not cause celebre and not glamorized by Hollywood. You freaks.

    1. All those words and still nothing of meaning.

        1. Fkn retard. Pot isn’t legal in Canada.
          Did I mention you’re a fkn retard?

          1. I have a feeling that I’m not “fkn” retard, anonymous online warrior.

            Yeah, pot’t not legal in Canada. I heard that it was, that’s why said “apparently”. My bad for not googling it at the moment.

            You try to employ sarcasm to make a point that there are civil liberties to consider other than gay marriage or legalizing pot, and you anger….. the hicks? I don’t know.

            1. “pot’s”

              1. I get it, so long as gays have one particular set of civil liberties, the right to marriage, then it doesn’t matter if their civil liberties in other areas are deeply curtailed. It’s okay to seize a gay person’s property (and their same sex spouses property, wire tap him if he likes to attend a mosque, limit his choices in the marketplace, artificially inflate his housing prices, etc., as long as the State says he can marry. It’s taken me so long to understand libtard definition of freedom, when it is so simple.

    2. Hey look, it’s Ann Coulter!

      I’m not sure what the pussy groupthink response is, so I’ll just wait until more people comment.

    3. Actually, you’re replicating Coulter’s Strawman.

      Libertarians discuss the drug war therefore Libertarians cannot properly discuss other abuses of the State.

      Your’s is:

      Libertarians discuss other abuses of the State and therefore cannot properly discuss gay rights.

      How about:

      Libtards discuss curtailing civil liberties so often and therefore are dangerous to all individual civil liberties, including that of gays.

    4. Pot and gay marriage are not legal in Canada. Not at the Federal level and it depends on the province. Some provinces are more “lenient” like B.C. but Ontario less so. Quebec so-so. Gay marriage is not legal here in the province. Quebecers don’t go to Church but like the apply and invoke religion when it suits them. It’s a borderline banana provincial republic across the board.. .

  12. Here in Australia, we have ‘plain packing’ laws so along with photos of eyes, foetus’ and a dead guy called bryan the packet is just brown-apparently kids are enticed to smoking by the colourful logos off cig packets

  13. Congrats, Bloomie, New Yorkers will never, ever be considered ‘tough’ again. They’ve all been sheep, bleating and following their chosen shepherd like a herd.

    Given that, they may want to avoid trips to New Zealand. Got it on good authority from the Australians that the Kiwis really enjoy fucking sheep. But then, that may be an incentive for a significant number of them. . .

  14. You guys are way behind.
    Year ago British Columbistani passed a law putting smokes behind the curtain. At gas stations, they’re behind those fire doors you see in hospitals that come slamming down when the fire alarm goes off. They even forced the CIGAR store in Victoria to paper over his windows like he was selling p-rn.
    As for nutritious vending choices, you can’t buy a chocolate bar to save your life in an Alberta high school. Stuck at a high school game while you kid rides the bench, with no time to eat dinner? Enjoy those flavorless rice crackers for two bucks.

    1. Why the dash in “porn”? Is this another Old Testament prohibition?

    2. B.C. can be rather churlish. It’s all messed up. Meanwhile, alcohol is treated extremely lightly in Quebec. Hard “war” on cigarettes but not alcohol and gambling which destroys WAY more lives. Heck, the government OWNS the liquor business through the SAQ here. Bunch of hypocrites politicians are. I can’t understand for the life of me how New Yorkers can tolerate and digest a nanny-stater like Bloomberg. What happened to their FUCK YOU attitude?

  15. The garbage NYC citizen: Never hire them….never date or marry them….never do business with them.

    1. And please don’t rent an apartment to one in Texas.

    2. I’ve worked with several real life NYC attorneys. They are a special breed of the attorney species having taken billable hours into uncharted territories. There is no simple transaction they cannot quadruple in size, complication, and cost. If someone has had a different experience, please chime in.

  16. To sequester tobacco products are anything else will do little to reduce use of these items. In fact, it will make them more desirable.

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  19. the “Sensible Tobacco Enforcement” bill

    Now with extra sensibilication!

    I swear to god if murder wasn’t criminal, and a bill came up that would criminalize it, I would oppose it on principle if it had the goddamn word “Sensible” in it.

  20. Next they will want Walmart to hide all their food products….. We have got to kill Obesity in America!

  21. Piper. I just agree… Victoria`s c0mment is flabbergasting, last week I bought a brand new audi after bringing in $5888 this-past/4 weeks and a little over $10k last-month. without a question it is the easiest-job Ive ever done. I started this 9-months ago and almost straight away started bringin home at least $73 p/h. I use this website,

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  23. If you think Julie`s story is cool…, last week my cousins step dad got a cheque for $9876 working eighteen hours a week an their house and the’re neighbor’s aunt`s neighbour has done this for 10-months and recieved a check for over $9876 in their spare time at their labtop. the tips from this address,

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  25. upto I saw the draft four $7797, I didn’t believe that my neighbour woz like actualey taking home money parttime on their laptop.. there aunts neighbour has done this less than fifteen months and resently repaid the mortgage on their appartment and purchased a great new Dodge. this is where I went

  26. insidious fashion: By making a legal but unhealthy product increasingly unaffordabl

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