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Government to prohibit smoking in your own vehicle?

By Scott Tibbs, March 26, 2009

Tonight, the Monroe County Board of Health will hold a public forum at 7 p.m. in the Monroe County Courthouse regarding a proposal to make it illegal for people to smoke in their own vehicles if a child less than 14 years old is in the vehicle. The County Commissioners will consider the proposal in their meeting tomorrow. See the PDF legislative packet.

Before I even get into the issue, this is exactly why County Commissioner meetings should not be hidden away at 9:00 a.m. on a Friday morning, while most people are at work. (See previous articles from October 17, 2008, November 13, 2008 and February 3, 2009 ) This is a significant piece of legislation that will affect the liberty of thousands of Monroe County residents. Having a meeting schedule that discourages public participation is unconscionable and the Commissioners meeting times should be changed as soon as legally permissible.

The text of the amendment is as follows:

Smoking is prohibited in a motor vehicle, either at rest or in motion, in which there is present a person thirteen (13) years of age or younger. A law enforcement officer shall not stop a vehicle for the sole purpose of determining whether there is a violation of this section.

On some level, this actually makes more sense than banning smoking in "public places." If the concern is to protect children, they are much more exposed to second hand smoke by parents who use tobacco than they would be at a restaurant. The problem is that this is a significant invasion of a person's private space. Regulating what a business that caters to the general public may allow is one thing, but infringing on personal space is something else. We are, after all, talking about what is (for now) a legal product.

This sets up an uncomfortable precedent. If government can take the step of regulating when legal adults can use a legal product in the privacy of their personal vehicles, what other steps will be taken for the good of the children using this as a precedent? Will government regulate what parents are allowed to feed their children to minimize junk food intake? After all, obesity can have serious long-term health implications and children are not necessarily of the age where they can make these decisions intelligently.

Government can and should step in if there is evidence of abuse or neglect, and there are already laws on the books to protect children in those situations. Unfortunately, some parents make foolish choices around their children. Unless we're willing to live in a police state, we should not be taking more and more steps to control the personal lives of adults. Government should not be our Mommy, and this proposal should be rejected.