Recently, the state of Pennsylvania passed the Clean Indoor Air Act (it became law on September 12, 2008). Like most smoking bans, it prohibits lighting up in most public buildings, such as restaraunts, parts of casinos, bars, and workplaces. It comes as no surprise that this act passed, as smoking bans are passing all over the country. However objectionable, from a libertarian standpoint, these bans are, they have so far left the home relatively untouched.
The law in Pennsylvania contains a clause that prohibits foster parents from smoking in their houses or cars whenever a foster child is present. One problem is that the law went into effect immediately, which means that some foster parents can no longer smoke around their foster child(ren). Since they are committed to the foster child(ren) already, it places a burden on the parents that they did not have to originally consider. If this results in foster parents getting in trouble, this is a problem. The terms of a contract can’t change after the contract is signed unless everyone agrees, which they haven’t.
The bigger issue I have with this law is that it breaks previously hallowed ground by introducing government interference inside the home. In a time that big, intrusive government seems to be very popular (the government is buying bank stock!), we run the risk of seeing a marked increase in laws that govern how people must act inside their own homes. The argument in favor of this sort of law is easy: “For the good of the children!” This is appealing on a base-emotional level, but it isn’t a good idea because it justifies some terrible laws.
Consider the founding principles of this country. They pretty clearly protect liberty and property. Yet this is an example of the government disregarding liberty and property rights. Why not extend the ban to trans fats, as some cities have done? Or high fructose corn syrup? If we are really worried about the children, maybe we shouldn’t let them eat any of these substances. I’ve heard caffeine stunts growth – so let’s ban that as well. Red meat might be bad. Or eggs. Or milk. Of course these suggestions are ludicrous, but it is what lies further down the slippery slope that we’ve embarked upon. Liberty must be defended vigilantly, which is exactly what the founding fathers were after. My guess is that they would be extremely disappointed to see a law like this one on the books.