If you and I were to make a long list of things that people shouldn't do, smoking would probably be near the top. There probably isn't anyone left who thinks smoking is a good thing, including those who smoke. That's a large part of the reason bans on smoking in restaurants and other public areas have successfully passed in so many places.
So it's not very surprising that the Utah House just passed a bill that aims to make the jump from telling people they can't smoke in public places to telling them they can't smoke on — or more accurately, in — their own property. The bill, HB13, would prohibit adults from smoking in a car when a child under the age of 16 is present.
We all know that exposure to smoke is bad for children. But that doesn't justify the overreach of this bill, which aims to tell people what they can't do within the confines of their own property. Being inside one's vehicle is much like being inside one's own home. Where will this desire to reach into people's personal lives and tell them what to do or not do — however good the directive may be — stop?
If the state can get away with making it illegal to smoke in a person's own vehicle with their own children or their friends present, what's to stop it from doing the same in people's homes? Far more secondhand exposure occurs in homes than in cars.
What about some things that are closer to home for many Utahns? Watching too much TV, playing too many video games, eating Cheetos, spending too much time texting and not getting enough sleep are also bad for children. Should the government make laws to regulate these behaviors as well? All of these issues have studies to back up what's best for kids and could conceivably be legislated based on those studies in just the same way as this anti-smoking bill.
Isn't it possible that this is a camel's nose that could be making way for the rest of him? I contend that it's likely, given the current political climate in which our basic freedoms are disappearing faster than a late spring snow.
Does anyone want young people to be in cars where adults are smoking? No, of course not. But does anyone want the state of Utah to be able to tell individuals what to do with their own property and children? No. The latter is the greater threat.
There is virtually no freedom that can't be legislated away by a desire to protect people from themselves and their bad choices. This is even more true when applied to the desire to protect other people's children from their parents' bad choices. But this is a dangerous road we should not go down.
If Utah's legislators make the jump to legislating against undesirable behavior on personal property, what will stop them from adding to the list of prohibited behaviors, or the list of private locations? Where might this direction lead should legislation start addressing other behaviors, ones which are not universally accepted as bad but vary family to family, such as what to eat, how often to attend church or how much television to watch?
We must protect others' freedoms to do what we feel is stupid or bad, if we want our freedoms respected and protected, especially when it comes to our freedom to care for our children to the best of our ability, with all our strengths and failings. This bill should be opposed. It is the camel's nose.
Autumn Cook is a freelance writer living in Lehi. She runs Admoneo, a blog about Utah politics.