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Valley town chooses smoking in parks over more Big Government

POSTED August 23, 2013 10:33 p.m.

Manteca is not New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg’s kind of town.
That’s because the Manteca City Council Tuesday dared to pose and answer the question: Is there a limit to Big Government?
And the answer delivered by a split decision is “yes.”
In the Age of the Nanny State where everyone expects the government to do things for them and stop others from doing things they deem distasteful, the City Council stood up for arguably one of the most offensive habits of all — smoking.
More specifically, they said enough is enough in the societal drive to banish smokers to modern-day equivalents of leper colonies. Manteca will not be banning all smoking in city parks. Instead, they will let a state law prohibiting the use of tobacco products within 25 feet of playground equipment.
Being subjective, I do not like the idea of anyone smoking anywhere near me, period.
There are bigger things at stake here, though, than my discomfort with the ill-effects of second-hand smoke.
Individual rights or more precisely the right to do something that someone else disdains is being imperiled every time Congress and the legislature convenes.
There are no absolute rights. Even freedom of speech has its limitations as famously defined by the wording of Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes in the unanimous 1919 Supreme Court ruling that noted an individual essentially doesn’t have the right to yell “fire” in a crowded theater without suffering consequences.
All rights are tempered with how we interact with others. There are few absolute black and whites. That’s why debates over the constitution are never ending.
The premise of the park smoking ban was noble. It was to keep people healthy whether they are the smokers or those who get to enjoy obnoxious second-hand smoke. By doing that, it was expected to make park use more pleasant for the majority of people who don’t smoke. It meant the minority basically be damned even though most smokers by far are courteous and don’t let smoke blow on others.
 The majority of the council that voted down the ban have never smoked cigarettes or gave up the habit long ago. They saw the proposal as government overreach. Simple personal responsibility addresses perhaps 99 percent of all conflicts between smokers and non-smokers in parks. Yet because a small percentage of a minority group lacks personal accountability the law as proposed would have whittled away the rights of those smokers who do act responsible.
It has become increasingly popular in this country to put the screws to those who practice behaviors that aren’t in the majority.  We may have repealed all of the laws that targeted minorities based on skin tone and trashed many that target minority sexual orientation behaviors. We are adding almost daily, though to the repertoire of discriminatory laws against those who pursue behaviors that are in the minority.
Councilman Vince Hernandez pointed out people seem to have no problem piling taxes on those whose behavior they consider sins. California’s cigarette taxes are a prime example. Besides the straight tobacco tax that is on top of the sales tax for a pack of cigarettes there are taxes for everything to fund anti-smoking campaigns to early childhood development programs.
We are seeing an uptick in attempts to put other sin taxes in place such as on soda. Obesity and unhealthy eating have been deemed a societal behavioral problem that people seek to address through sin taxes and hairsplitting government regulations right down to how much soda one can buy at a time.  The reason they haven’t succeeded yet is there hasn’t been a 50-year campaign to ostracize those who eat junk food or drink soda as there has been with cigarettes. Give it time. Once the majority agrees they will erode the rights of individuals who aren’t undermining anyone else’s rights.
But what about the societal and government cost of health care connected with smoking, junk food and soda you might ask? Isn’t it unfair everyone else is shouldering the cost directly or in directly?
The question begs another. Why is it OK for everyone else to shoulder the cost directly or indirectly of keeping alive a premature baby or extending the lives of someone who is dying for another week or so? 
The Manteca City Council has elected not to journey farther down the path where individuals become completely subservient to the state or, if you prefer, societal correct standards.
Just 40 years prior their predecessors on the City Council made Manteca the first city in California — if not the nation — to ban the placement of cigarette machines where they were accessible by minors. Rest assured the question of how much government regulation is enough was asked back then.
On Tuesday, Manteca’s elected leaders finally answered the question.

This column is the opinion of Dennis Wyatt and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Journal or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.  He can be contacted at dwyatt@mantecabulletin.com or 209-249-3519.

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