Thursday, March 05, 2009

First, they came for the smokers

Here we go again. It's for our own good, after all:
“The dangers of second-hand smoke are undeniable — that’s why I made a restaurant smoking ban one of my legislative priorities. This legislation will make Virginia’s restaurants safer for both patrons and employees,” the governor said in a statement. “I’m proud to have been able to work with leaders in both parties of the General Assembly to find common ground on this reasonable and necessary public health measure.”
Of course, Virginia's bars and restaurants were already safe for patrons and employees -- you don't like secondhand smoke? You're free not to go to places that permit smoking. It's that easy. I've ranted about this before, and will likely rant about it in the future. But here's my rant today.

Legislation like this makes non-smokers, who represent a majority of folks in the Commonwealth, happy. It does so because they can now enjoy any restaurant without someone smoking near them. And, as our esteemed Governor points out, "[t]he dangers of secondhand smoke are undeniable."

Of course, the dangers of crossing the street are undeniable, also. As are the dangers of eating potato chips, staying up too late, drinking too much, playing music at loud volumes. The list of things about which the dangers are undeniable is endless. As the government increasingly invades our lives, and criminalizes or otherwise bans what were until very recently simply personal choices that one was free to make, we are all less free to do what we like.

Increasingly, we are becoming a society of positive rights -- we have only those rights that the government chooses to let us exercise. This is happening on a federal level, state level, and local level, without regard to party or political affiliation. This is a creeping shift from the notion behind the negative rights philosophy of the founding of our country -- that the government has only those powers that we, the people, grant to it. That which is not forbidden is permitted, and the government cannot interfere in our private affairs without good reason and the consent of the governed. The law exists to protect the least of us, after all -- it's the baseline for our common morality.

Now, perhaps you're of the opinion that, because the dangers of secondhand smoke are "undeniable", that this is appropriate legislation with a good and necessary goal relating to public health. That's fine, but I want those of you who think that to consider what this type of mission creep by government does, and what its logical end point is. Taking away unpopular freedoms in the name of public health can only lead to more intrusion by government into our personal choices. Is that really desirable?