- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 14, 2002

In the 1600s, witches were burned for the glory of God. Today, we're ticketed, fined and prosecuted "for our own good." The jihad and that's the right word against smokers is a case in point. Onerous "sin" taxes are not enough for anti-smoking zealots who have annointed themselves protectors of other people's health, whether those other people are interested in being saved or not. Now, the focus is on banning cigarette smoking in all public places, and New York City is taking the lead.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg has seen to it that the cost of a pack of cigarettes now costs more than $7 courtesy of targeted sin taxes and he's pushing for a ban on smoking in restaurants and bars as the next step. "You really have to be out of your mind to smoke," he said. "What we are trying to do is provide a smoke-free environment for people."
It all sounds very noble, but the precedent being set by this type of behaviorial policing is going to be something we will one day regret. That smoking is unhealthful is entirely beside the point. Fast-food hamburgers are also bad for you. So is too much sun. Life is full of choices that are no one's business but our own unless we want to erect a nanny state in which any self-appointed do-gooder can use the machinery of government to enforce lifestyle and habit codes. Are we going to put sin taxes on cheeseburgers, or issue tickets to sunbathers if they fail to wear the right amount of lotion? Will push-ups become mandatory every morning? The principle is the same, and therein lies the danger of "for your own good" legislation that targets such things as cigarette smoking. A free country is one in which people are left to their own devices until and unless they violate the rights of others. A non-free country is one in which the state regiments every aspect of each person's life, and enforces conformity with the officially endorsed right way of doing things. Whether it's for the benefit of the proletariat, or "for your own good," the end result is the same: less freedom for the individual, more power for the state.
Restaurants and bars may be open to the public, but they're not owned by the public. It is fair enough that authentic public spaces, such as government offices, be made amenable to the people who are footing the bill. But restaurants and bars are supported by their patrons people who voluntarily choose to enter the premises and who do so because they want what's inside, whether it's the food or the ambiance. Some people actually go to bars to smoke, have a drink and be among friends. Why is that any business of the state's?
Mr. Bloomberg and others who object to smoking are free to patronize other establishments, and he and those who share his belief should not insist upon enforcing their preferences upon everyone else. They should live and let live.


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