- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 21, 2003

At least five of the nine members of the Montgomery County Council are trying to save lives again.

Their vote last week to ban smoking in bars and restaurants is expected to pass in July after a similar 1999 ban was overturned on a technicality by the Maryland Court of Appeals earlier this month.

The council’s commitment to save lives is noble, of course, even if no one in the county is asking to be saved. If the council can save just one life, then the intrusion is all worth it.

This is the justification of more and more petty laws. The basics, after all, have been pretty well covered in the past. Lawmakers have to do something to inflate their positions of importance.

Smoking is a bad habit, no doubt, not unlike feasting on McDonald’s secret sauce seven days a week. A person’s arteries are bound to end up being cluttered in either case.

The freedom to treat one’s body as a dumping ground is almost pathological with most Americans.

We know what is right. We should dine on rabbit food, exercise four or five times a week, drink lots of bottled water and wash our germ-carrying hands 10 to 15 times a day.

Back in the real world, however, Americans — the young in particular — are susceptible to the liberating feeling of a Big Mac going down the gullet. A few trial lawyers have taken notes and decided that McDonald’s is a sneaky operator. One of these years, McDonald’s, like the tobacco companies, is going to be required to pay hefty damages to the gullible.

For now, the smoking ban is the rage of lawmakers.

Many of the victims in the service industry, bartenders and the like, are usually found scratching their heads while muttering about the hits to their pocketbooks.

Bartenders are in the business of serving alcohol, hardly a healthful pursuit. A glass of wine or a bottle of beer may be good for the body, but most bartenders are not inclined to limit their patrons to one drink. That would not be good business.

The political position of the council and its like-minded types in America is peculiar.

It is perfectly acceptable to be intoxicated, as long as it is in a smoke-free environment. The same goes with mainlining cholesterol in a restaurant.

You want a serious hit of melted butter, sour cream and cheese on your baked potato?

Tell you what. Let’s call Dr. Jack Kevorkian and be efficient about it. There’s no sense involving an emergency crew and the health industry with this baked potato.

Alas, for lawmakers, there is nothing trickier than saving lives. Consistency is elusive. You first save the life of a tip-happy bartender who is surrounded by smokers, which is a good thing.

Then, it seems, you are obligated to save the life of the town drunk, a threat to himself and others.

Town drunks have a tendency to be obnoxious, if not argumentative. Someone always ends up needing stitches. You know how it is with town drunks.

You say, “Nice weather we’re having.” Then, before you know it, you are arguing about which meteorologist is the best in town.

We are a fat people, too, which used to be the exclusive fault of McDonald’s. Recently, however, Nabisco has come under unwanted scrutiny because of a substance the company sticks in its Oreo cookies.

Lots of nutritionists now suggest that if you eat a bunch of hydrogenated-oil-filled Oreos, you either have just died or you are living on borrowed time.

These are frightening times. It is enough to drive a person to drink.

There are terrorists and smokers in our midst, along with the McDonald’s-induced pleasantly plump and consumers of hydrogenated oil.

Each group, in one fashion or another, is apt to intrude on the quality of life of others, depending on how you look at it.

Have you ever sat between two casualties of McDonald’s on a flight? Right. Enough said.

Fortunately for the residents of Montgomery County, the hard-working members of the council are doing all they can to make their stretch of the Beltway safer, healthier and better.

After the smoking ban is imposed, the council members will have a hard call to make.

Do they next go after the alcohol dispensers or the cholesterol cartel or the hydrogenated-oil peddlers? That is a tough one.

That is why they are where they are, and you are slurring your words in a smoke-free neighborhood pub.

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