On September 20, 2011 the mayor of the City of New York (NYC), the Hon. Michael Bloomberg (the Mayor) addressed the General Assembly of the United Nations. The Mayor spoke about the urgent need to solve the world crisis in non-communicable diseases. In his 12 minute address to General Assembly the Mayor argued that governments are in a unique position to stem this public health crisis. By enacting laws and implementing appropriate policies, governments could make the social default good health and not neglected health. Governments should pursue policies and laws that eliminate the unhealthy eating practices of its citizens. Though Mayor Bloomberg is a zealot for the improvement of public health he is right about the role governments should play in this effort.
In support of his arguments the Mayor cited NYC’s pro-active stance towards public health. He talked about NYC’s enactment of laws that banned cigarette smoking in restaurants, bars and on City owned property. Mayor Bloomberg also mentioned that the excise tax that the City of New York imposes on a pack of cigarettes raises the price of a pack to the highest in the United States.
Mayor Bloomberg also talked about the fact that NYC was the first municipality to ban the use of Trans Fats in restaurant cooking. Simplistically stated; Trans Fats are chemically modified food ingredients that raise the level of a particularly unhealthy form of cholesterol. Over the years we have become accustomed to the use of these fats in the preparation of fast foods. Who has not eaten McDonalds French fries or Kentucky Fried Chicken?
I do not always agree with the Mayor’s view on politics or economics. On the issue of governments’ participation in the improvement of public health I agree with the Mayor’s position.
There are no good health benefits that can be derived from smoking. Every year hundreds of thousands of people around the world die from diseases caused by smoking. Tobacco smoking increases the risk of stroke and heart disease. Smokers are more likely to suffer from pulmonary and blood vessel diseases. The ill effects of smoking are well documented. Mayor Bloomberg correctly insists that governments should lead the charge to end smoking.
NYC took bold and decisive action on December 30, 2002 when it banned smoking in
restaurants, bars and most work spaces. At the time the ban became law, owners of the targeted establishments argued that the new law would dramatically increase the costs of doing business. These doom slayers were ultimately proven wrong once the data could be collected and analyzed. The smoking ban has not had a negative impact on business operations. New York State enacted a comprehensive legislation which banned smoking. The newly enacted state law left intact NYC’s law but modified and eliminated some of the exceptions. Many national and foreign jurisdictions have enacted laws modeled on NYC’s smoking ban law.
After a contentious debate about civil liberties versus the police power of the state, the New York City Council on February 2, 2011 passed a second law prohibiting smoking on the City’s beaches and in its parks. Council members voted overwhelmingly in favor of this ban. Speaker of the Council, Christine Quinn Cristina Quinn, believed that the new law was a victory for non-smokers rights. Supposedly this further ban was passed to protect New Yorkers from the harmful effects of second-hand smoke. Beaches and parks attract visitors who want to feel a cool breeze on their faces and to breathe some “fresh air.” Consequently secondary smoke, if any, should dissipate in open space before it bothers anyone. Exposure to secondary smoke in enclosed spaces can create health problems but not at beaches or parks.
There have been no successful legal challenges to the City’s power to enact laws that ban smoking or eliminate the use of Trans Fats in foods.
Statistics indicated that during the last 10 years almost 500,000 New Yorkers quit
smoking . Officials assert that this drastic reduction in smoking is due to the City’s graphic anti-smoking ads and the ban on public smoking. This is the official line but it cannot be the reason for the drop in smoking. The majority of the people who have quit the habit have done so due to the high cost of cigarettes. Regardless of the reason people are smoking less the total cost of treating smoke related illnesses has fallen every year. In my opinion Mayor Bloomberg was correct in his address to the General Assembly when he stressed that the economics favored governments using their power to cut the number of smokers.