Michael R. Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York City, is all but forgotten, but he’s not gone, exactly. Like a New York Yankee who swings for the fences and misses on the first two pitches, His Former Honor took his Big Gulp ban to the state’s highest court Wednesday, hoping to avoid a strikeout. Two lower courts have ruled that the city’s Board of Health overstepped its authority in May 2012 in banning soda pop containers larger than 16 ounces, and the ban has been in legal limbo since.
Mr. Bloomberg’s successor, Bill de Blasio, could have (and should have) allowed the ban to die unmourned, but he like Mr. Bloomberg thinks he knows what’s best for everybody else. City Attorney Richard Dearing appeared before the judges in Albany on Wednesday trying to breathe life into the Nanny State prohibition on large beverages.
The two mayors are not unique. The impulse for “behavior modification” extends to Maryland, where the nannies insist the $2-per-pack state tax on cigarettes is not severe enough. The anti-smoking Maryland Citizens’ Health Initiative is pushing for another $1-per-pack increase, claiming the backing of 200 candidates for the Maryland General Assembly. That number includes 20 incumbent state senators and 52 incumbents of the House of Delegates who are up for re-election. Only eight Republicans appear on the list; the others are Democrats.
The additional revenue — it says here — will reduce teen smoking and fund health care programs. Similar excuses were made in 2007 to double the tax from $1 to $2. If such taxes do good, then smoking is an act of good citizenship. But only the gullible think a doubled tax doubles the revenue. With the easy public access to Virginia and West Virginia, Maryland tobacco revenue increased by only a third. The big spenders in Annapolis take whatever cash they see.
In the Old Dominion, the per-pack tax on cigarettes is just 30 cents, and in West Virginia it’s just 55 cents. Since Maryland’s 2007 increase, there has been a marked rise in black-market trafficking in bootleg cigarettes in the state. Between 2006 and 2012, consumption of smuggled cigarettes in Maryland rose from 10.4 percent to 20.2 percent, according to the Tax Foundation and the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. That has given Maryland the 15th-highest rate of cigarette smuggling in the nation, up nine places since 2006. The $1 tax increase only increases the financial incentive for smuggling bootlegged butts.
The New York Court of Appeals, the state’s highest tribunal, has a chance to strike out the Nanny Staters by recognizing the right of individual men and women, who come in all shapes, sexes, sizes and colors, to decide for themselves how much cola they should drink. Residents of Maryland will have the same power to send a message in November to the politicians whose vice, gluttony for tax revenue, is even worse for our health than second-hand smoke.