Tuesday, June 30, 2009


Clyde Haberman takes aim this morning against the city's new effort to get in your face for your own good health-the mandate that diseased lungs be postered on the point-of-sale at retail outlets where cigarettes are sold: "Before too long, you may be forced to stare at a photo of blackened lungs, oozing decay, every time you go to the bodega for a quart of milk. We’re trying to figure out where under the heading of quality of life to file this bit of news."

And Haberman is wondering just where all of this in your face do-goodism will stop-if at all: "In that case, how about taking this approach even further? Why stop with cigarettes? Why not require pictures of morbidly obese people at candy counters, to show what too many Snickers bars can do? Or photos of clogged arteries at fast-food restaurants, to discourage orders of double cheeseburgers? To promote safe sex, graphic examples of Kaposi’s sarcoma could be placed by condom racks. Displays of horribly diseased livers in liquor stores ought to deter people from drinking to excess."

Of course, you will say, that's just Haberman being his usual sardonic self. You don't really believes that the kinds of things that he suggests will ever enter into the non-diseased minds of the public health set? Do you? But this kind of thinking is part of a classic slippery slope; because the appetite for healthy intervention is indeed a voracious one.

But, as we have been saying, the concern by the Bloombergistas over the health of New Yorkers doesn't extend to the health of the very same stores that the city will soon festoon with grisly pictures of blackened lungs. With more for-rent signs sprouting up-something that Haberman has also noticed-it would be nice if we could get a bit more expansive in what we consider to be in the health interest of New Yorkers.

But, unfortunately, Mike Bloomberg has no real concern for the retailers whose livelihoods he is challenging while fervently engaged in lengthening the life span of his reluctant subjects. Here's the Haberman critique last month of the Bloomberg five borough economic fiasco that he calls a plan: "If your neighborhood is anything like mine, the streets are dotted with empty stores, victims in many cases of rapacious landlords who, with City Hall’s tacit blessing, jacked up rents to unsustainable levels. Only the bottom fell out of the economy. Those vacant storefronts, with their sad “space available” signs in the windows, are a dispiriting blight."

Still, with all of the empty store fronts, brought on in part be the Bloomberg small business myopia, there is an opportunity: a huge and expanding urban canvas upon which the Department of Health can-graffiti like-decorate with all of its avuncular health messages; all the while covering up the chronic economic malaise that the mayor ignores in his public relations snow job into a third term.