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Friday, December 30, 2005

Smoking Ordinances?

An article in USA Today yesterday said that nearly 40% of Americans now live in communities that have some form of anti-smoking laws in effect. The laws usually prohibit smoking in businesses and restaurants which serve or employ people under 18, as well as in public / government buildings. Some of the stronger laws even outlaw smoking in parks.

Many people will tell you that the "cultural norm" has shifted away from smoking, i.e. that because a majority of people now do not smoke it is somehow alright to legislate against the practice. Personally, I don't smoke. I think that smoking is stupid - a waste of money and a waste of health. But these laws represent something broader than just curtailing smoking. In essence what these laws allow is for the government to illegalize a lawful practice in a private place.

In the government buildings, fine, the government owns them and they have the right to make any laws concerning them that they wish. A government, however, should not have the right to legislate lawful activities in private settings. Imagine if a city decided to outlaw smoking in not just private businesses but also private homes. Or, better yet, consider if an extremely liberal community determined that eating meat was inappropriate, and thus disallowed the sale of animal products in restaurants.

When we set a precedent of producing laws affecting private places on a majority's whim, we are misusing the government's power and authority, regardless of the agenda at hand.