Thursday, December 30, 2010

A Good Sign

As the NY Times is reporting, a federal judge has kicked the city in the butt over those gruesome cigarette signs: "A federal judge on Wednesday struck down a New York City law that would have forced all bodegas and convenience stores to post gruesome images of diseased lungs, brains and teeth in the shops to discourage people from buying cigarettes. In a 13-page ruling, Judge Jed S. Rakoff of United States District Court in Manhattan wrote that while the law was well intentioned, it violated federal law since only the federal government had the authority to regulate cigarette warnings and advertisements."

Of course, tobacco being what it is, the judge couldn't resist being politically correct in the process-but did manage to maintain that retailers have rights too: "Even merchants of morbidity are entitled to the full protection of the law,” Judge Rakoff wrote, “for our sake as well as theirs.”

The city, for its part, will not meekly accept the judge's ruling: "The decision puts an end — at least for now— to the city’s plan to have the placards displayed beside cash registers in more than 11,000 establishments across the city. While awaiting Judge Rakoff’s ruling, the city had agreed that it would postpone enforcement of its rule until this weekend. Lawyers with the city’s Law Department said they planned to appeal the decision."

What's nice here, is that a judge whose sympathies on the tobacco issue obviously lay with the city, still felt compelled to rule adversely on the law-and our legal champion Floyd Abrams rose to the occasion, as always: "Floyd Abrams, a lawyer who represented the convenience store association, said that even though the city had agreed not to enforce the rule until this weekend, many retail shops had put up the graphic placards anyway. He said he was “very pleased” with Judge Rakoff’s decision. “It will allow the retail stores in New York to be freed of the obligation to put signs up urging customers not to buy their lawful products,” he said."

The NYC DOH, for its part, was able to take time away from trying to put all of the city restaurants and bodegas out of business, to bemoan the judge's decision:

"In a statement, the health department said that the city “strongly disagrees” with the ruling and that tobacco companies “trying to prevent these messages from being seen should be ashamed of themselves.”

“The city’s warning signs portray completely factual messages about the dangers of smoking,” the statement added. “They do so at the exact moment when smokers are making decisions about purchasing tobacco. We believe it is the city’s responsibility to help smokers quit and to protect children from the harmful effects of tobacco smoke.”

So, a victory against bureaucratic over reach-but a further example, however, of how far this administration has gotten away from its core mission; and, instead, into attempting to control and regulate the lives of New Yorkers. The idea that store owner would have to advertise against their own self interest apparently never dented the obsessional thinking of the Nannies-and the idea that the health of the small business community is also an important policy goal has never been something that the Bloombergistas have cared much about.

Small business is in crisis, with regulations and taxes stifling entreprenuerism in this city. On this front, the DOH is the number one culprit-making the business climate unhealthy while, at the same time, meddling into our personal lives. It would do the city good to fire the lot of them, and add more sanitation personnel so that New York won't be crippled in the next storm.