The world has come a long way since the only restriction on cigarettes was "smoke 'em if you've got 'em."
Has the pendulum now swung far enough that no one will soon be allowed to smoke 'em except in their home or personal vehicle?
Columbia County officials, led by County Commissioner Tom Mercer -- who also serves as chairman of the county's Board of Health -- are pursuing passage of the "Columbia County Smokefree Air Act of 2004," a proposed ordinance that would outlaw smoking in all publicly accessible buildings in the county.
County government buildings are already smoke-free. As local officials jump on a bandwagon of similar laws around Georgia, this ordinance would extend the smoking ban to private businesses, especially restaurants.
We're all for it. Smoking is just nasty. Cigarettes are the world's only product that kills when used as directed. Most smokers are either blissfully ignorant of their addiction's offensiveness to people around them, or worse, they know and don't care. And why should they? If they won't protect their own health, why worry about anyone else's?
Where this push for a ban is puzzling, however, is that it comes from nominally Republican elected officials. The GOP is supposed to stand for less government and more personal responsibility. Govern-ment regulation of a privately owned restaurant's air space doesn't fit that philosophy.
Mercer explains it's also the duty of elected officials to protect the health and safety of citizens. It strikes us that the Republican Party is the wrong place for such a nanny-state attitude.
This isn't a Republican newspaper, so we don't have to hew a party line. Smoking is repulsive enough, and the secondhand damage to customers and caf workers is potentially bad enough, that any restrictions are OK with us.
Citizens of Columbia County, even though the vast majority cast ballots for Republican candidates, seem to agree. In online polling by The News-Times, by a better than 2-1 margin, respondents want a ban on smoking.
Mercer and other commissioners, then, can do the math: 70 percent of citizens will agree with a ban; the rest -- made up of hardcore tobacco-addicts and libertarian-minded Republicans -- will disagree.
This will then become a case in which the majority rules. But even though we agree with that majority, it certainly isn't a case of Republican philosophy ruling.
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