“The tax went up, and we started selling 10 times as much. Bloomberg thinks he’s stopping people from smoking. He’s just turning them onto loosies,” says Lonnie Warner, known to his customers on Eighth Avenue in Manhattan as “Lonnie Loosie,” of his business selling single cigarettes on the street. Doing so is a misdemeanor, the New York Times reports, and Mr. Warner has been arrested fifteen years in the four years he’s been doing this, resulting in some stays for a few days in Riker’s Island. He and his two partners make from $120 to $150 a day.
The city and the state have created his market for him:
The administration of Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg has outlawed smoking in restaurants, bars and playgrounds, and outside hospital entrances. Even city parks, beaches and pedestrian plazas are now off limits to smokers. Then there have been successive rounds of taxes — the most recent one, a $1.60 rise in the state tax in July — that raised the price of a pack of cigarettes to $12.50 at many Midtown newsstands.
This kind of story leaves one torn between the recognition that even minor breaking of a trivial law harms the general respect for the law and the recognition that such laws, imposed by prigs and busy-bodies upon people who like other vices than the ones they like (Bloomberg does not seem as concerned for peoples’ livers as he is for their lungs), equally harm the general respect for the law. The state is not absolved from responsibility just because it does this kind of thing legally.
People naturally respond in such ways when pushed too far by the state — Banning smoking in bars? What possible business is it of the city’s if people smoke in bars? — and the state is responsible for encouraging disrespect for the law when it pushes them too far. If Bloomberg wants to impose this kind of restriction upon his victims, he bears some responsibility for encouraging people to break the law. Mayors, provoke not thy citizens to wrath, as St. Paul might have said.