New York became the nation’s first city to outlaw alcohol in all bars and restaurants Thursday, citing public health concerns and past bans on smoking and foods containing trans fats. The New York Board of Health ordered establishments to stop serving all alcohol within a 30-day time line or risk being shut down.
Officials also passed an ordinance requiring a health certification for anyone seeking to consume fast food, alcohol, and other unhealthy food and drink. The certification requirement was seen as a compromise between the economic needs of businesses and the concerns of health officials, who wanted to completely ban all fast food restaurants.
Both decisions were applauded by health advocates and public safety groups concerned with heart disease, obesity, liver failure and drunk driving. Such ills cost the city and state billions in taxpayer dollars every year.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who supported the smoking and trans fats ban, also advocated for the new prohibitions.
“If you’re going to drink, you have to do it at home,” Bloomberg said. “And if you’re going to do that, or eat unhealthy food, you have to prove to a doctor you can do so safely.” He rejected claims that the ban goes too far in telling private businesses and individuals what to do.
“No one wants to tell you that you can’t have fun at bars and restaurants or eat and drink what you like,” he said. “But if you can do so in a way that’s safe for your health, then we ought to do that. And we want to make sure that if you’re eating or drinking unhealthy things, you’re physically fit to do so.”
Groups representing bars and restaurants strongly opposed the new regulations and argue they will go out of business as a result.
“This is nonsense,” said David Warner, president of the Association of Bar and Restaurant Owners. “Why would anyone come to a bar if not to drink? What else would they go there for?”
Meanwhile, Ed Chesson of the Union of Fast Food Restaurateurs said that the certification requirements would mean fewer burgers and fries sold.
“It’s easier to just not go at all than to have to pass some government test,” he said.
Bloomberg dismissed the criticism, arguing that patrons don’t frequent such establishments only for alcohol. He also asserted that the health certification would be easy to pass, likening it to a driver’s license.
“It’s ridiculous to believe that people go to bars and restaurants only to get drunk,” he said. “There’s nothing saying that people can’t go to these places to hang out with friends or watch the game. And if we can card people before they buy a drink, we can card them before they buy a burger.”
In order to purchase fast food, alcohol, and certain other foods and drinks, individuals will be required to obtain an application for a NYC Board of Health Permit for Food and Drink Consumption. The applicant can tailor the permit application to cover whichever foods or drinks he or she desires to purchase. A doctor’s physical must then be obtained and the doctor will certify which foods and drinks can be safely consumed by the applicant.
“When it comes to your health, eating a cheeseburger is like firing a gun at your heart,” said Nancy Reed of the Board of Health. “And if we require a license for you to get a gun, it makes sense to require a license for you to get a cheeseburger.”
Bloomberg noted that the ban on smoking and trans fats laid the groundwork for the new regulations. He also said that in a time of mushrooming public health expenses, the certification requirement is a cost-cutting method that will help taxpayers save money.
During a recent stop at a Times Square bar, some customers said they weren’t pleased with the ban.
“So we’re not smart enough to choose whether to smoke or eat fatty foods, and now we’re not smart enough to drink,” said Bill Clymer, a patron.
Sarah Schultz, a fast food customer, was supportive of the health certification requirement.
“I like it,” she said. “The city is just protecting us, as individuals and as taxpayers, from the consequences of bad decisions like eating unhealthy food.”