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October 9, 2012

Taking a Bite Out of Liberty

Steve Gottlieb

Would you like a Snickers bar while visiting or waiting for a loved one to receive treatment in a hospital? Well, if you’re in New York, that will no longer be possible. This is just another in a series of dictatorial moves by the mayor of New York City.


Michael Bloomberg, the aforementioned mayor, decided to take it upon himself to improve the health of New Yorkers by personally deciding what is and is not acceptable choices for the citizens of that politically besieged city.


Working to improve the health of your fellow citizens is not necessarily a bad thing to do. However, the question becomes at what cost we allow one person to determine what is best for us. Is the abrogation of our personal freedom of choice an appropriate price to pay?


So, let’s take a look at the list of initiatives under Mayor Bloomberg, as laid out on June 4, 2012, in a Washington Post online blog entitled Ezra Klein’s WONKBLOG. He started in 2006 by banning smoking in most public places; predominantly restaurants and bars. Then in 2011 smoking in parks and at beaches along with other public places was outlawed. The result, according to the article, was the smoking rate in New York City dropped from 21.6% in 2002 to 18.4% in 2004. A decrease in the smoking rate is good; nobody really thinks smoking is harmless.


That said, the result of these bans was that people no longer had a choice on how they can operate their businesses or where they might be able to go to enjoy a good meal, conversation and a cigarette. Even sitting outside with a group of friends and having a cigarette, or cigar, or pipe is no longer a choice. When you’re sitting outside in the open air, no one is really forced to inhale your secondhand smoke; so there is really no reason to prevent people from smoking if they so choose. Basically this type of ban infringes on property rights and the rights of individuals to make their own choices.


In 2006 Mayor Bloomberg decided to take aim at transfat, since it is known to help cause increased cholesterol levels. As a result, by 2008 New York City banned the use of transfats in all restaurants. As of now there is no data to show that this ban on transfat made any impact on the cholesterol levels of New York City residents. So far, this is just another example of government interfering with private business owners running their businesses in the most cost efficient manner possible.


During the same time the City of New York also made it mandatory that all chain restaurants with more than 15 outlets had to post information on the calorie count of their food. As a side note, Obamacare will make it our national policy that all chain restaurants with more than 20 locations post the calorie count of their food. Interestingly, this requirement did not seem to make an impact on how New York residents chose to buy their food. This requirement was yet another regulation piled on the backs of already overburdened business owners.


Mayor Bloomberg wasn’t done yet. He also set his sights on the level of salt in our foods. He initially wanted to reduce the level of salt by 20% in 62 food categories and 25 types of restaurant food. During the same time a New York State assemblyman, Felix Ortiz, proposed to ban all salt in New York City restaurants. This proposal was quickly rejected.


The mayor also took aim at sugary drinks. He proposed that people on food stamps not be allowed to use them to buy sodas or similar type drinks. The Obama Administration quickly said no to that suggestion. But, not to be discouraged, Mayor Bloomberg pushed for an 18% tax on sodas that was rejected by the New York state legislature.


Not to worry though. The defender of public health at the expense of individual freedom was not to be dissuaded. Recently, New York City health officials voted to disallow the sale of sugary drinks in containers larger than 16 ounces. I guess they never thought a person could buy more than one. So, if you like Big Gulps, you’re out of luck if you’re in New York City.


Hold on tight to your liberty as New York’s tireless public servant is on a roll. The City of New York is working to eliminate candy bars in vending machines and fried foods from the cafeterias of both public and private hospitals. The 15 public hospitals already cut calories in patient meals. Supposedly hospital participation in these initiatives is voluntary – at least for now.


No one is arguing that improving the health of Americans is wrong. The issue is how we go about it. Every time government takes a bite out of someone’s liberty, out of someone’s freedom of choice, or interferes with someone making their own decisions all in the name of the public good, we get one step closer to tyranny and totalitarianism.


What will be the limits of government intervention? After all an argument can always be made that something is being done for the public good. If that argument is the standard by which we live, then government can do anything, make any decision and determine how we live our lives without restriction.


If government leaders get away with it in New York City, and they get away with it in other localities, eventually these encroachments on our liberties will become state and national policy as well. An argument can be made that we are already at that point. Let’s hope not. We also need to keep government intrusion on our personal lives and liberty to a minimum.


So, go enjoy a Snickers bar and a Big Gulp, or maybe some fat free yogurt and whole grain bread. The choice is – and should be – yours.


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