New York City has extensive public health regulations. Some regulations aim to reduce smoking, and they include high cigarette taxes and bans on smoking in public places such as bars, restaurants, public beaches, and public parks. Other regulations aim to combat obesity. They include regulations requiring display of calorie information on some restaurant menus and the elimination of transfats in much public cooking.
One important issue is whether New York City officials -- including both public health officials and other city officials -- have adequately explained the justification to the public. Explanation has practical importance; the public might not back controversial and restrictive regulations unless offered a good rationale. But explanation is also an official duty, since public officials should make their reasoning transparent to their constituents. This article argues that New York City has not adequately communicated the rationales for its regulations to the public. It then offers several suggestions for improving public communication.
After laying out those suggestions, this article points out that even if communication were improved, New York City’s regulations would still raise difficult philosophical issues. Those issues are briefly discussed in the final sections.
NOTE: this is a reprint of a conference presentation