To the Point for the week of 12/7/06

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IS THERE A POINT WHEN the government is too involved in the lives of its citizens?

I’m not one of those guys who’s holding up in a shack in the mountains after attending survival school; but some of the events of the past week have made me stop and think that there may be a point when there is too much intrusion into people’s private lives.

The state of Ohio will today begin the implementation of a statewide smoking ban in public places. We have seen those types of bans in cities and towns, but this is the entire state.

As of today (Thursday), restaurants and bars and other places of business will have to remove all ashtrays from their establishments. You will no longer be asked if you want “smoking or non smoking?” when you go into a restaurant; and those who frequent bars won’t have to deal with heavy smoke hanging in the air anymore.

Now, as a non-smoker, it really doesn’t bother me that there’s a no smoking ban in place in Ohio; but I have to feel for the business owners in Cincinnati who say that they will lose a large percentage of their customer base to bars and restaurants just across the river in Kentucky, where public smoking is still legal.

The city of Louisville has also implemented a public smoking ban, outlawing smoking in bars, restaurants, and other public buildings. The city did, however, make one exception – patrons will still be allowed to smoke at Churchill Downs.

Closer to home, the city of Madison is still sparring over its smoking ban.

One restaurant in Madison openly violated the law on the first day that it was in place; and at least one popular Madison restaurant has closed its doors – saying that the loss of customers because of the ban made it impossible to keep the doors open.

And it’s not just smoking.

New York City is moving forward with plans to prohibit the city’s 20,000 restaurants from serving food that contains more than a tiny amount of artificial trans fats.

Those trans fats, which are found in many fast food items as well as other prepared foods, are believed to be a leading cause of heart disease.

It’s hard to imagine how the New York City Board of Health could possibly enforce such a ban with so many restaurants, but it appears that the largest city in the U.S. will soon take steps to help its citizens be more healthy.

Health officials say that the typical American diet contains 5.8 grams of trans fats per day – but a normal fast food serving of French Fries contains about eight grams of trans fats alone.

Restaurant owners are, as you can imagine, outraged. They say that the new regulations will mean higher prices for customers, which could mean less business – and closed restaurants.

Sounds silly, doesn’t it, that your government would legislate where you can smoke and how healthy your lunch is?

The problem is complicated by the rising cost of health insurance, which leads more and more people to stop having private health insurance – and relying more on the government to pay for healthcare costs.

In 2000, the U.S. Government spent $429 billion to provide healthcare for non-elderly adult citizens. Remember, that figure doesn’t include the care for elderly adults, or for those of us who have private health insurance. That’s just people with no other health insurance option.

In 2003, this country spent $1.7 trillion on healthcare. That’s more than 15 percent of this country’s gross national product, which means of all of the resources that this country has, more than 15-cents out of every dollar is going to provide healthcare to someone who can’t afford it otherwise.

With so much money being allocated from the local, state, and national government; it begins to make some sense as to the reasoning for legislating such things as not smoking in public or having less fat in restaurant food.

So here’s the question: should Switzerland County adopt a smoking ban in public places? It’s a popular topic across this country, and I would like to hear your opinion. Should this county consider adopting a ban on smoking in public places?

Let me know. We’ll pass along your thoughts to county officials.