From Idaho Press-Tribune:

      Nanny state is out of control
      William Rusher

      Just about the only shibboleth left in American society is the one against smoking tobacco. Smoking marijuana is fine: Several states have already legalized, by popular referendum, its use as an all-purpose medical nostrum, and many of the nation's rarer spirits have come out in favor of decriminalizing it altogether. Consensual sex of any kind, Mr. Clinton has taught us, is nobody's business but the participants', even if it occurs in the Oval Office during a phone conversation between the president and a congressman on the subject of troops for Bosnia. Even massive tax evasion, followed by flight to Switzerland and renunciation of American citizenship, qualifies for a presidential pardon if enough money is contributed to the Democratic National Committee and the Clinton Presidential Library in Arkansas. But the foes of tobacco march on, from triumph to triumph. In the entire state of California, there is no indoor public space in which smoking is permitted. And in the Washington suburb of Friendship Heights, Md., the crusade has now taken its next logical step: Under a new Montgomery County ordinance, smoking is banned outdoors on all public sidewalks and grassy areas and in all public parks in the Village of Friendship Heights. First-time violators will be issued a warning. Repeat offenders will be fined $100 per violation. To Dr. Alfred Mueller, the mayor of Friendship Heights, "It's a public health issue. Many nonsmokers have medical conditions that are worsened by even a small amount of inhaled smoke." And if the ban "prevents even a few adolescents from becoming addicted," it will be worthwhile, he adds. There is, of course, not the slightest evidence that any nonsmoker has ever been injured, or so much as a single adolescent ever become addicted to tobacco, by virtue of the minuscule quantities of tobacco smoke that may exist in the breezes that waft through America's public parks. But foes of tobacco are immune to the normal rules of argumentation; their sheer rectitude exempts them from the ordinary requirements of proof. Fortunately, a resident of Friendship Heights, Jacobo Rodriguez by name, is affiliated with the Cato Institute, a respected libertarian think tank that devotes itself to combating the excesses of Big Government. So Mr. Rodriguez (a nonsmoker, by the way) has brought a lawsuit against Friendship Heights, charging that it has no power to levy penalties on those who violate the ban. About the time you read this column, a county judge will conduct a hearing on the question. Whichever way the court decides, the case undoubtedly will be appealed. Perhaps you are a nonsmoker and think you have no interest at stake here. But did you know that Dr. Kelly Brownell of the Yale Center on Eating and Weight Disorders wants foods to be graded by their fat content and taxed accordingly? On a PBS broadcast, he complained that even poor people can afford Big Macs and french fries. We should tax Big Macs, he said, so the poor can no longer afford them - for their own good, of course. So, if you enjoy a Big Mac occasionally, be warned: They're coming after you, too. The sad truth is that there are many people who get their kicks out of seizing the moral high ground (in this case, opposition to smoking tobacco) and then beating the daylights out of people who refuse to toe the line. But is this a prescription for civility in public affairs? Robert Levy, a senior fellow in constitutional studies at the Cato Institute, put the key point very well indeed: "Ordinarily," he said, "we rely on common courtesy and mutual respect when individuals relate to one another. But nosy, intrusive government has polarized the dispute between smokers and non-smokers. As a result, venom has replaced respect and obstinate behavior has replaced common courtesy. It is government, not secondhand smoke, that has poisoned the atmosphere."

 William Rusher is a Distinguished Fellow of the Claremont Institute for the Study of Statesmanship and Political Philosophy.