Column: Precedent-setting law infringes on rights

A bill was recently introduced in the Georgia State legislature to put new restrictions on smoking. House Bill 175 states that “it shall be unlawful for any person to smoke tobacco in any form in the presence of a child who is in a child passenger restraining system in a passenger automobile, van or pickup truck.” Under this law, any violators are guilty of a misdemeanor. While this bill is extremely well-intentioned, it is especially troubling due to its intrusive nature.

First of all, this new law would essentially tell people how to behave in their own private automobile. While we all know that smoking is extremely harmful to one’s health, we have not of yet taken the step of proscribing it, as cocaine or heroine. Therefore, this new law would basically tell a person that they could not commit an otherwise lawful act in their own car. What’s next? Telling people they cannot listen to certain music in their own car? To the many millions of Americans who spend several hours in their cars every day, the automobile is a very personal and private place and they don’t want to be told how to behave there.

This law is nothing like laws that would ban the use of cell phones in cars, because people talking on cell phones while driving causes accidents that kill many people. People who drive and smoke cigarettes at the same time do no such thing. The truth is, this law is more like newer legislation that would ban smoking in private residences. What is even better is the enforceability of these types of laws. Public safety officials would come to the door or ask you to roll down your window. It gets better. If you had enough time to ditch your smoke, they then demand “open your mouth, let me smell your breath.” And just like this you get a $50 ticket.

Possibly even more troubling is the fact that this law essentially legislates how people raise their children. I will flat out say that anyone who habitually smokes in his or her child’s presence is an idiot. Second-hand smoke is horrible for a child’s health, but I can think of many things just as bad or worse. Things such as diets heavy in fast food and junk food, parents who let their children play with firearms, parents who let their children drink and skip school and parents who let their children misbehave in department stores.

Nonetheless, I have not seen too many laws to regulate these other nuisances. The government should not get into the business of writing laws that tell parents how to raise their children. This is a precedent setting law that needs to be voted down. Great Britain, as a matter of fact, has revolted against the latest round of European social laws that would ban spanking and other forms of corporal punishment. Good for them – parenting should be left to parents.

Thus far our society has dealt with the problem of smoking through education and through protecting others. In school we are taught not to smoke because of all the health problems we will suffer down the line, and smoking is prohibited in many restaurants because it is harmful to unsuspecting customers and employees. However, new laws to ban smoking in automobiles and homes have nothing to do with protecting innocent bystanders or employees. These laws do nothing more than take away another right – the government should not tell you how to behave in your own home or car.

-The writer, a senior majoring in international affairs, is a Hatchet columnist.

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