A story made the headlines over the last few weeks about a law in New York involving a ban on whipped cream. Many grocery and convenience stores had begun asking for age identification for people wishing to buy canisters of these products. As it turns out, the law was actually passed in November of 2021 and sponsored by a New York state senator, but its enforcement didn’t occur until recently, which prompted many stores to adopt new policies.
Naturally, New York’s whipped cream law had some underlying good intentions. Senator Joseph Addabbo advocated for the bill’s passage last year in an effort to curb teen drug habits. Inside these whipped cream containers hides small amounts of nitrous oxide. If nitrous oxide is inhaled, one can enjoy a brief moment of euphoria that can actually be addictive. And according to Addabbo, the issue was quickly becoming out of hand in his district. But good intentions alone rarely guide the best course of action, especially when resources are limited. And it’s times like these we need to step back and reassess the logic of our actions.
“Sadly, young people buy and inhale [nitrous oxide] to get ‘high’ because they mistakenly believe it is a ‘safe’ substance. This law will eliminate easy access to this dangerous substance for our youth.” – Senator Joseph Addabbo
A Closer Look at New York’s Ban on Whipped Cream
Before we look at the rationale behind New York’s whipped cream law, it’s perhaps even more important to examine the actual statute. Indeed, the law does impose a ban on whipped cream, but it doesn’t do so on grocery store products. Instead, it actually prohibits the selling of whipped cream chargers to those under 21 years of age. What’s a whipped cream charger? Better known as whippets, these chargers are small 2-inch long cannisters are used to aerosolize whipped cream cans. Thus, while whipped cream cans do have nitrous oxide, that’s not the item cited in the law. In actually, New York’s whipped cream law only pertains to nitrous oxide cannisters called whippets.
Given this, it’s immediately clear that grocers and convenience store owners have misinterpreted their responsibilities. Certainly, makers of Reddi-Wip and other whipped cream products aren’t too upset about this. After all, the publicity alone can’t hurt. But at the same time, it highlights how we as citizens and consumers accept some of the silliest legislation as reasonable. Perhaps there may be some rationale to preventing teens from accessing whippets. But a ban on whipped cream in total is far from logical or even practical. Yet here we are with food stores all over the state changing the way they screen whipped cream purchasers. Misinterpreted or not, New York’s whipped cream law shows just how ridiculous some governmental policies are.
“I know it does seem silly, but we definitely see that there are certain teenagers that are abusing cans of whipped cream.” – Erica Komoroske, Spokeswoman for Stewart’s Shops
Getting Legislative Priorities Right
Without a doubt, teen addiction is something deserving of our attention. No one would argue that point. Based on statistics from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, nitrous oxide addiction is a thing. Of children and teens between the ages of 12 to 16 years, roughly 4% have tried nitrous oxide. But in addition to its pleasing “high” and anti-anxiety effects, it can cause some negative adverse reactions. In the short term, it can cause blood pressure to drop and even cause heart problems. Longer term, it has been linked to memory loss and mental health issues. These were the things that the New York whipped cream law hoped to prevent. But a ban on whipped cream cartridges or cannisters is hardly to be very effective.
Let’s look at this issue from a larger perspective. Child obesity is a tremendous epidemic affecting a third of children. A diabetic epidemic among youth also exists. These are associated with a much broader array of health problems when compared to whippets. But to date, no state has placed restrictions of sugary food substances or high-fatty foods. In fact, none have placed a ban on whipped cream either. From a different perspective, legislation has yet to require mental healthcare coverage for all Americans. Understanding that mental health issues likely underlie nitrous oxide abuse, prevention efforts to begin with make much greater sense. By these comparisons, New York’s whipped cream law looks ridiculous. Of all the possible solutions addressing child and adolescent health problems, a ban on whipped cream is not the answer.
“Requiring age verification when purchasing whipped cream is another classic compliance burden placed on convenience stores in New York State.” – Kent Sopris, President of the New York Association of Convenience Stores
Constraining Business Innovation
Legislation like the one involving New York’s whipped cream law wastes precious resources. The most obvious ones involve the time state lawmakers spent time sponsoring, recruiting, and lobbying for its passage. Taxpayers’ dollars supported all of these efforts for a ban on whipped cream cartridges that isn’t likely to be of value. But does the law even make any strides to solve the issue it cites? If teens have little problem skirting around laws against alcohol and marijuana possession, how effective can this law be? This is certainly the case as cannabis legalization advances. All of this suggests New York’s whipped cream law has been a tremendous waste of time and energy.
There is also a much large issue at hand related to New York’s whipped cream law that involves businesses. The real victims of the ban on whipped cream sales to date have been grocers and convenience stores. They are the ones who had to deal with the confusing details of the law and impose new policies. The effort spent on the ban of whipped cream detracted from other pursuits that might actually be of value to their customers. As is the case with many governmental actions, excessive oversight diminishes opportunities for creative innovation. New York’s whipped cream law is the perfect example of a statute that imposes opportunity costs on business. Not only is it not business owner’s responsibility to oversee individual teens behavior. It’s also not their responsibility to be the enforcers of laws that undermine their ability to compete in the marketplace. A ban on whipped cream might be a small step in that direction. But if businesses refuse to push back now, it may come back to haunt them later.