Mayor Michael Bloomberg has been accused of many things over the years, but at a press conference today, a representative of the New York Association of Grocery Stores provided a new nickname: magician.
“This mayor must be the great Houdini–he must be Houdini–because in 2001, when he took office, we were selling 42 million cartons of cigarettes in the City of New York,” the representative, David Schwartz, contended. “The great Houdini waved his magic wand and all of a sudden, in 2013 we’re selling 7 million cartons of cigarettes.”
Mr. Schwartz, needless to say, did not find that drop a credible reflection of actual declines in smoking.
“If anyone believes that smoking dropped from 42 million to 7 million,” he explained, “then there’s a bridge behind us I’d like to sell everybody.”
Instead, he blamed the drop on black market sales.
“This mayor and this council has created the largest black market we have ever seen. This black market in cigarettes rivals the drug trade. Opportunists have taken advantage of the system and they are buying untaxed cigarettes in this city and they are selling them all over the place,” Mr. Schwartz said, railing loudly against the mayor in front of a tobacco store near City Hall.
Mr. Schwartz was one of several members of a new coalition, Save Our Stores, that recently formed to vehemently oppose Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s proposal to forbid stores from publicly displaying cigarettes and tobacco products, as well as establishing a minimum price for cigarettes and prohibiting retailers from redeeming cigarette coupons. The coalition, naturally, ripped both into Mr. Bloomberg’s policies and the mayor himself, depicting him as an enemy of small businesses who swamps them endlessly in fines and regulations.
The various speakers argued that, beyond creating a burgeoning black market for cigarettes, the proposal would be unfair to adult consumers and restrict the ability of retailers to compete on price, harming their bottom line. They even contended the display ban would violate the First Amendment, which they said protects the communication of truthful and non-misleading commercial messages about lawful products. A representative from the coalition told Politicker, however, that they were a “non-political” group that would not be wading into this year’s mayoral race.
“The display ban will not serve its stated goal and in fact will have the opposite effect,” said Robert Bookman, an attorney for the NYC Newsstand Operators Association. “This law is going to require us to replace that wall of cigarettes with probably siding, wood panels. What do you think is going to go on those siding or wood panels? Cigarette advertising. It’s not going to be an empty wall, so we’re going to replace really unattractive cigarette packs with very attractive ads of Joe Camel and the Marlboro Man and Newport for sale here.”
Chong Sik Lee, president of the Korean-American Grocers Association of New York, said these proposals were just more examples of how small businesses owners seem to be under constant attack from the Bloomberg Administration.
“Even if we have an out-of-date sign, we get fined right away,” Mr. Lee said. “On top of that, the proposal requires us to make changes to our stores to hide tobacco products. Why do we have to hide legal products?”
The City Council’s Health Committee will hold hearings on the legislative proposals starting tomorrow.
Mr. Bloomberg’s office didn’t immediately have comment, but the administration has previously touted its anti-smoking efforts as life-saving tools critical to raising New Yorkers’ life expectancy rates.