Dealing with the Long Arm of Government

JohnNewThe onslaught continues.

It never ceases to amaze me that why, in these trying economic times, lawmakers insist on introducing legislation that costs retailers sales opportunities. Virtually every chain I’ve covered over the past 15-plus years in this industry has counted on earnings and profits to reinvest in the business. That means buying more real estate, hiring more employees and helping to stimulate a weakened overall economy. It’s business 101.

Yet, state politicians and the federal government have become masters at biting the hand that feeds them. In business classes someday soon professors will begin teaching an economics course on the lessons learned in New Jersey over the state’s effort to increase tobacco taxes. The state raised cigarette taxes in 2006 to the highest in the nation as a way to fill its coffers on the backs of smokers. The same lawmakers actually seemed perplexed when the number of smokers in the state stayed the same, but tobacco tax revenue sharply declined.

The thank you card to the New Jersey State Senate from neighboring Pennsylvania, which has one of the lower cigarette taxes in the nation, was the first hint something was amiss. Surging sales at Native American smoke shops was another. If New Jersey smokers weren’t looking for a cheaper alternative for cigarettes before the tax was enacted, they sure were after.

Cue New York, where the City’s Board of Health is considering a ban on dispensed sugary drinks greater than 16 ounces. The board is set to vote on the issue next month.

The proposal has many flaws. For starters, as adults, we simply must be free to make our own choices when it comes to what we eat and drink. Plus, Mayor Bloomberg’s excuse that “obesity is costing the city money,” doesn’t hold water either. It is simply nonsensical to assume that such a ban would have any measurable impact on the underlying health problem. Certainly, pollution, overcrowding, poverty and unemployment are contributing to the deteriorating quality of life in New York much more than a 20-ounce slushie.

Joy Dubost, a nutritionist who works for the National Restaurant Association, said the proposal wasn’t backed by scientific evidence and that it could actually have a reverse effect on consumers by producing “a false sense of accomplishment in the fight against obesity.”

The onslaught continues.

Walmart and many other big-box stores throughout New York State sell guns and ammunition, but they better not sell a 20-ounce fountain drink. In the military I trained on M16s, .45s and shotguns. The Ruger 9 mm semi-automatic is my range weapon of choice these days. Yet, it’s the illegal possession of a 20-ounce sports drink on my way home from the gym in my native New York City that has me worried. I can transport the Ruger legally.

What’s Next?
Even New York City lawmakers seem perplexed by the proposal. City councilman, Oliver Koppell, called the ban “a clear overreaching of government into people’s everyday lives. This infringement on the rights of New Yorkers leads us to ask what will be banned next?”

It’s a valid question. And where is personal accountability in all of this? New York can’t seem to reign in illegal drug use and gang activity. It’s hard to fathom that the mayor was finally motivated to act in the best interest of the people by launching an all out assault on lemonade.   

If a 20-ounce iced tea is contraband, how on earth is gum still legal? Do you know how many people stepped in gum last year? If we’re going to hold retailers and manufacturers accountable for peoples’ behavior, then it must also be time to punish them when lazy consumers don’t use a garbage can. And don’t even get me started on the dangers of a banana peel. Fruit growers, New York has just put you on notice.

The onslaught continues.

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