The nanny state

By EDITORIAL  |  December 18, 2008

Now that tobacco has been banished from health-care chain stores and the few remaining neighborhood apothecaries, why not borrow a page from Governor Patterson's master plan and go after candy? Don't laugh. Mayor Thomas Menino tried to curb T-shirt sales in the hopes of stemming violence by gunfire — an unassailable goal. (Eradicating gun violence, that is, not T-shirts.) Is a link between tooth decay and socially destructive behavior far away? Society already knows that unemployment, low educational horizons, and broken homes contribute to urban problems. Maybe logo-free T-shirts and good teeth are the answer.

Mother Johnson's campaign to stamp out smoking is admirable in its blindness to class division. Under the guise of providing greater protection of workers from exposure to the evils of secondhand smoke, the great outdoors has now become the new battleground in the war on smoking. Owners who since Boston's indoor-smoking ban was levied in 2003 — just after many establishments installed expensive ventilation systems to mitigate the effects of second-hand smoke, and were imaginative enough to create outdoor zones for patrons — once again see their investment go up in smoke, as those patios are now outlawed. Adam Smith is no match for the nannies. Smoking is now banned from bar and restaurant loading docks, too. It is not an anti-teamster move. Rather, it is aimed at all of those morally depraved people who take a break from their wine, beer, and cocktails to go out the back door for a smoke. The loading-dock ban is aimed at blue-collar establishments without upscale patios.

Our nannies also seem to have forgotten that Massachusetts residents just voted, in effect, to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana. Yet the Public Health Commission succeeded in banning the sale of blunt tips, hollowed-out cigars that can be filled with pot. This move, too, is aimed at curbing urban violence. Shooters smoke weed. (And they probably drink Coke or Pepsi.) Good intentions aside, this initiative is as doomed as its ill-conceived cousin, the T-shirt ban.

Nannies everywhere share in the larger societal hypocrisy that envelopes tobacco. Governments throughout the nation keep raising taxes on tobacco products, pursuing the conflicting aims of putting a stop to smoking while disproportionately taxing an ever-shrinking population.

In Massachusetts, tobacco taxes account for two percent of state revenues. That figure is expected to go higher with the new taxes the legislature passed this year. If City Hall nannies are so concerned with smoking, why don't they decline two percent of the state aid they receive? Surely they aspire to be holier than all.

Thanks to a groundswell of opposition by patrons of the 11 cigar bars and establishments that offer hookahs, the nannies have allowed a 10-year exemption before seeking to snuff them out. Who says the nannies are heartless?

Our nannies and the right-wing radicals who soon will be evicted from the White House share this in common: they believe in the government's power to coerce, to bully.

Individual rights and the freedom to choose are subordinate to their vision of what is best. Nannies and Bush Republicans may disagree about ends, by they enjoy the same mindset and employ the same means. The good news is that the Bushies will soon be gone. The bad news: the nannies remain.

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