New crusade for loathsome nanny-state mayor: Let's make store owners hide cigarettes behind the counter

The most irritating peculiarity of Bloomberg’s petty nannyism is how it gets you thinking like a regulator even if you oppose what he’s doing. The hallmark of Bloombergism isn’t meddling with people’s personal habits, it’s meddling with those habits in a half-assed way such that you’re left wondering, perversely, why he didn’t crack down even harder. Where’s the logic in limiting sodas to 16 ounces if you can buy as many 16-ounce sodas as you want? Why not limit customers by law to one per sale and force them to go to multiple stores if they want to drink more? Why not ban soda from the city entirely? Why not do the same with cigarettes? (Actually, via John Ekdahl on Twitter, there may be a good reason for not doing that.) I guess he’s trying to walk a line politically by finding regulations that will change public behavior a little bit while not affecting it so much that there’ll be a giant outcry. But what does he care about outcries? He’s in his final term. He’s thinking about his legacy, which is why he’s crowing about the fact that this cigarette law is the first of its kind in the U.S. He could regulate with an even heavier hand and let the chips fall where they may, but instead he seems content to just … annoy and inconvenience people. You’re one of a kind, Bloomy.

No, actually, I do think there’s a strategy here.

The mayor announced today his proposed “Tobacco Product Display Restriction” bill, which would require all stores to keep cigarettes hidden from plain view.

The smokes could only been seen at purchase and during re-stocking, under Bloomberg’s plan that he’ll submit to the City Council on Wednesday.

“New York City has dramatically lowered our smoking rate, but even one new smoker is one too many – especially when it’s a young person,” Bloomberg said in a prepared statement.

“Young people are targets of marketing and the availability of cigarettes and this legislation will help prevent another generation from the ill health and shorter life expectancy that comes with smoking.”

Maybe putting cigarettes out of sight will put them out of kids’ minds, or maybe the added taboo of stashing them under the counter like contraband will pique kids’ curiosity once they see some of their peers start smoking. Also, I thought the point of putting photos of corpses and tracheotomies and diseased lungs on cigarette packs was because you want people to see them. Seems to me that’s a more effective deterrent for someone who’s trying to decide whether to buy his first pack than for someone who’s already asked the cashier to fetch him a pack and handed over his cash. But never mind all that: The point here, I take it, is to pave the way for similar food regulations later by making people get comfortable with the cigarette regulations first. Nearly everyone is more comfortable with anti-tobacco laws than anti-sugar laws because ciggies are addictive, they affect others in a confined space, and the specter of cancer is more frightening than health complications from obesity. So put cigarette packs behind the counter now and then, in a few years, maybe the public won’t grumble too much when you put soda behind the counter too. In fact, I think that law might have gone down more smoothly for Bloomberg than the dopey 16-ounce ban. Making an adult ask for a specific type of product by name is less insulting to his dignity than telling him he’s a bad boy for wanting a big soda like the grown-ups drink. See, though? He’s got me thinking like a regulator again.

In fairness to Bloomy, though, it feels churlish to complain about him on a day when the “conservative” prime minister of Britain is cooking up a scheme to limit press freedom in the UK. Some countries are way, way beyond nannyism. Hug your Bill of Rights tonight tightly, my friends. In lieu of an exit question, watch Bill Maher(!) bring the hammer down on Bloomberg’s soda ban while Jared Bernstein makes the case for regulating everything, basically, in the name of making people absorb the cost of their own risks. Click the image to watch.