Stossel on Starbucks: Let the Company Decide

The bureaucratic bad ideas never go away. They don't repeal old laws; they just pass new ones.

The mayor of the tiny community of Friendship Heights, Md., said he had to protect his citizens from cigarette smoke. So several years ago, he got his town to pass the most stringent anti-smoking law in America. The law banned cigarette smoke not just in restaurants, bars and offices, but outdoors too.

The mayor is a doctor who should have known that only the flimsiest of data suggests secondhand smoke hurts people. The suggestion of slight risk came from studies of people who lived with smokers and were exposed to lots of secondhand smoke at home and in cars.

The idea that outdoor cigarette smoke is a meaningful health risk is silly. Granted, secondhand smoke is a nuisance. But so are many other things.

But the mayor was a zealot, and Friendship Heights banned smoking anywhere on city property, which meant no smoking on the sidewalks, on the streets, or in the parks.

I said to Mayor Alfred Muller, "You're another of these busybody politicians who wants to tell other people how to live their lives."

He replied, "Well, we're elected to promote the general welfare, and this is part of the general welfare."

The mayor seemed very sincere, and the citizens of Friendship Heights felt protected by his concern. However, shortly after I interviewed him, he was caught touching a 14-year-old boy's genitals in a restroom at Washington National Cathedral. The mayor got probation, and the village council repealed his law.

Now we finally know what it takes to get a law repealed.

The people who have the biggest passion for restricting other people's behavior are the very people we should worry about most.

Unfortunately, they keep running for office.

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