- The Washington Times - Monday, November 26, 2001

Members of the Montgomery County Council apparently have been liberally inhaling a large quantity of whatever illegal substance they happened to find before the beginning of last week's council meeting.
That can be the only explanation why they passed what has to be one of the most astonishing anti-smoking ordinances on the books in any county this side of the planet Jupiter. Specifically, the council's measure mandates fines of up to $750 for smokers if a whiff of their fragrant habit offends any nosy neighbors.
Somehow seeing this odiferous order as a benefit to the public health, County Executive Douglas Duncan has already promised to sign it. However, the statue does not specify a lower limit on the level of second-hand smoke, the risks of which have been wildly exaggerated.
Yet even if atomic amounts of second-hand smoke were demonstratively harmful, there is the minor problem of property rights. Presumably, the Constitutional right to privacy applies to smoking as well. Besides, by using the statue's logic, bachelors in the habit of setting off smoke alarms through ill-advised attempts at cooking could well be banned from reading anything by Betty Crocker.
Council member Ike Leggett didn't see it that way. He maintained, "This does not say you cannot smoke in your house. What it does say is that your smoke cannot cross property lines."
Fine. Then the council should act to outlaw the wind-producing Coriolis force and probably global warming as well. The council might also want to look into putting a ban on Brownian motion (the random thermal movement of molecules). After all, the health of our children is at stake. There is no reason for children to be exposed to any atoms in the air that might cause cancer. Oops, those atoms actually include oxygen. Sorry. Just suffocated the entire Montgomery County Council.
Certainly, the council needs to take a deep breath, as do the rest of the self-righteous members of the Second-hand Smoking Movement. There is simply no way to ensure that every breath an individual takes will be both pleasant and odor-free. Life is not like that and neither is legislation. Attempts to outlaw potential unpleasantness merely results in the Pavlovian panting of trial lawyers who know that prohibitive profits are in the air.
The American Civil Liberties Union is already sniffing out the pungent property-rights implications of the council's provision, and tobacco companies might have to sue simply as a matter of self-preservation.
Council members could have certainly avoided this malodorous situation. Unfortunately, self-righteousness can be as addictive as any drug.


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