- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 21, 2007


You’re not eating that! Put the phone down! Pull those earbuds out! And put down that bat; you’ll hurt someone!

Lawmakers around the country are passing or proposing laws to regulate the grease your doughnuts are fried in, the calls you make from the road, what you listen to when you cross the street, even the bat your child hits a baseball with.

The ideas are offered with the best intentions — usually to minimize a newly recognized danger or to encourage healthy behavior. Lawmakers worry, for example, that text-messaging while driving can be deadly, and that foods fried in trans fats promote heart disease.

Critics counter that regulating french fries and BlackBerries infringes on personal liberties. “Nanny government” some critics call it, and they point to a playpen full of behavior-related bills before city councils and state legislatures.

“If we were really at war, if we were in a depression, people wouldn’t be wasting their time with this stuff,” said David Boaz, executive vice president of the libertarian Cato Institute, “but because we’re not, you know, it’s easy to look at every little thing that bothers you.”

Attempts by the government to modify public behavior have a long history, from Prohibition in the ‘20s to safety-belt laws in the ‘80s and smoking bans in the ‘90s. In recent years, lawmakers have increasingly focused on food.

The big action this year involves trans fats, or partially hydrogenated vegetable oils used for deep frying and baking.

In December, New York City imposed the nation’s first ban on the use of trans fats in restaurants. The idea has spread like greased lightning since then, with bans or warnings introduced in at least 18 states. Philadelphia recently approved a ban, and one was even discussed in Buffalo, N.Y., birthplace of the chicken wing.

New York’s City Council recently called on residents to voluntarily stop using the n-word and approved a ban on metal baseball bats in high school games, because of fears that youngsters will get killed by balls rocketing off the bats. Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg has yet to take action on the bat ban.

New York in 2001 became the first state to make it illegal for drivers to talk on cell phones unless they have a hands-free set. And last month a state legislator proposed $100 fines for people who listen to IPods, talk on cell phones or text-message in New York City crosswalks.

Connecticut, New Jersey and the District, also have hand-held-while-driving bans. And 35 states have before them “distracted driver” bills aimed at activities like cell-phone use, text-messaging, DVD watching, reading, writing, grooming, even playing a musical instrument, said Matt Sundeen of the National Conference of State Legislatures.

California’s cell-phone driving ban goes into effect next year. In the meantime, lawmakers there are being asked to consider a ban on smoking in cars if there are children in the vehicle. A bill that would make spanking a crime was withdrawn.

Two states, Arkansas and Louisiana, already ban smoking in cars if there is a passenger in a child seat, according to Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights. That is in addition to 21 states that ban smoking in bars or restaurants or workplaces or all three, according to the advocacy group.

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide