Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Driven to Drink

You have to hand it to the NYC Department of Health-if there's an area that they can meddle in, they will indubitably find it. Now, according to Crain's, its alcohol in the department's cross hairs: "Two drinks can be the difference between getting home safely at the end of the night and being unable to leave the subway. At least that's the warning the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene is pushing in a series of new advertisements about excessive drinking."

Mother Mike is at it again-and this comes right after we spotted two large rats on our block. We'd feel a whole lot better if Farley and Company went after the vermin instead of the vermouth. But the DOH is inexorable in its concern for our health: "During this holiday season, the city will run the ad campaign in the subways to offer a “reality check” to New Yorkers about the dangers of excessive drinking during a time of the year when alcohol consumption increases. One version of the ad shows a woman dressed for a night out and slumped on the stairs with the warning, “Two drinks ago you could still get yourself home.”

Of course, if history is a precedent, this is only the beginning. First comes the PSAs, and then the calls for higher taxes or other forms of regulatory intrusions: "The campaign may be educational, but Ms. Simon at the San Rafael, Calif.-based Marin Institute believes that the ads should only mark the beginning. “They have to go hand-in-hand with policy changes,” she said. One particular change Ms. Simon would like to see is in the price of booze. New Yorkers can easily purchase cheap alcohol, and until that is curbed, excessive drinking won't be, she said."

Right on cue. Now we know that alcohol abuse is rampant in the city, and we don't mean to diminish its deleterious effects. But this kind of hectoring rarely is effective-and government should be working with community based organizations to counteract excessive drinking-a phenomenon that inevitably leads to domestic violence as well as physical impairment: "Alcohol takes a devastating toll on our health and well being,” said Dr. Thomas Farley, the city's health commissioner, in a statement. “New Yorkers are surrounded by ads selling alcohol, and the messages are enticing. Beer, wine and liquor may look like passports to sophistication and romance. But even two extra drinks can turn a good time into a disaster. If the images on these signs help drive that message home, they could spare New Yorkers a lot of needless suffering.”

Given the department's maniacal over reach, however, we believe that the ads should be scrubbed. They may, in fact, have an opposite effect-almost driving New Yorkers to drink. And while they're at it, they can scrap the anti-salt ads as well: "Three weeks ago, Mayor Bloomberg's latest health campaign -- cutting salt intake -- targeted soup as one of the big sodium offenders to be taken down with new city ads. Those ads, which will be plastered on subways for the next two months, feature a half-opened can of soup with a geyser of salt spewing from the top and forming a heap around the can. Trying to put fear into the hearts of salt-aholics, the ads will warn that excessive sodium "can lead to heart attack and stroke" and list average amounts of salt in various foods, such as salad dressing and frozen pizza."

Is there no limit to the meddling? Trans fat, fast food calories, gross tobacco ads, salt, sugared soda taxes, food stamp restrictions-and now alcohol. It's a god thing that this mayor has, hopefully, only three years left to his intrusive reign-after all, sex has yet to be regulated, and what you do in your bedroom could be next on Bloomberg's intrusive menu.

But as far as drinking is concerned, let's do a little less grandstanding and more active community involvement. With the root causes of people's behavior still in place-and little done to address them-public scolding is simply a waste of breath; and of our tax payer money as well.