One of the problems with regulating all aspects of daily living is that sometimes all of the rules imposed by government have unintended consequences. Sometimes, those unintended consequences turn deadly.
In writing this edition of REGonomics, I have to say I am torn. I am a 9-11 survivor, and I will never forget seeing the brave members of the NYPD and the NYFD running toward a burning building while I and my colleagues were running away. As such, I give police a lot of respect and tend to give them the benefit of the doubt in matters of law enforcement.
Recently, in Staten Island, New York, a citizen was killed during an arrest, and a Grand Jury looking at the case has ruled there is not reasonable cause to bring the officers up on charges. I’m not going to comment on whether or not the arrest was handled properly – I really don’t think I am qualified. But I do thing that people questioning the arrest, and those protesting about its nature, are failing to take one thing into account – this arrest was being made to enforce a ridiculous regulation.
In fact, Eric Garner was killed because he had the audacity to be selling loose cigarettes, something that is only illegal because of political correctness.
So in effect, Mr. Garner was killed by those same “progressive” political classes that for years have been making life difficult for the 20 percent of Americans who have the nerve to smoke tobacco.
Death of a Salesman – What Really Killed Eric Garner
Over the past two decades, so-called public-health officials and activists have engaged in what can only be described as a war against American citizens who choose to smoke tobacco. The result of this campaign has been the vilification of tobacco products and tobacco use to the point where there is an almost de facto prohibition against smoking in many parts of the country. New York City, in the guise of Mayor Michael Bloomberg, has been on the forefront of this activity.
Because of the political gains that certain so-called “progressive” politicians see from enacting irrational and draconian laws against smoking and tobacco in New York, a very hostile environment now exists in Gotham toward smokers. Not only is smoking banned in nearly all areas of the city, including private buildings, city parks, beaches and all eating and drinking establishments, but the tax rate on tobacco is now so high that excise taxes alone amount to about $6.86 per pack, or 34-cents per cigarette. On top of this, there is a sales tax of approximately $1.00 per pack, or an additional nickel per cigarette. No wonder that occasional smokers have turned to purchasing single cigarettes, which in New York City can cost between 75-cents to $1.50 each.
Not satisfied with its already burdensome taxes and regulations on tobacco, in January of 2014 the City passed additional restrictions on the sale of tobacco including a prohibition on out-of-package sales, ruling that All tobacco cigarettes sold or offered for sale by a retail dealer shall be sold or offered for sale in the package, box, carton or other container provided by the manufacturer, importer, or packager which bears all health warnings required by applicable law. (NYC Public Health Law Article 13-F § 1399-gg). This horrible action was punishable by fines of up to $2,500.
So in the case of Mr. Garner, the police were enforcing a public health law with a potential fine of about $2,500. From the videos that have been shown on television, it appears as if at least four officers were involved in this arrest. Assuming that it takes 3 hours to process the arrest, that would mean this action would have cost the City roughly $360. Of course, since Mr. Garner died during the arrest, the direct cost to the City is now likely in the millions of dollars and this does not even include the costs of dealing with the ensuing protests. In other words, this law is not an economically viable measure even in the best of circumstances, and rather than being designed to collect taxes, is really in place to harass citizens who choose to smoke tobacco.
On top of everything else, the high taxes imposed by the City and State of New York have done little to legitimately reduce smoking, and instead have created an underground economy in loose and smuggled cigarettes, an activity that Mr. Garner pursued for a living. Research that we completed for the NY Association of Convenience Stores found that about half of all cigarettes sold in New York State were smuggled or sold on the black market.
So rather than reasonably regulating tobacco to ensure that minors do not have access and to see that reasonable tax revenues are collected on its sale, the “progressives” in New York have progressed back to the 1920’s with their prohibitionist laws and regulations. It is bad enough that 20 percent of the state’s citizens are unfairly targeted, it is worse that these activities have led to the untimely death of Eric Gardner. When is enough enough?
Do you have a ridiculous regulation you want us to discuss?