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Bucks County Courier Times - May 8, 2016

Opinion: Smoking, soda and plastic bags

With the number of places where smoking is prohibited likely to soon outnumber the places where you can light up, it seems only a matter of time before the privacy of one’s home will afford the only safe haven from the anti-tobacco police. Yet even that venue will disappear July 1 for those Montgomery County residents living in public housing owned and operated by the county housing authority.

Come July, tenants in the 616 public housing apartments and townhouses for those with low incomes, the elderly and the disabled will have to go outside to smoke — at least 25 feet away from the buildings — or presumably be fined or even evicted if they fail to comply. The reasons given for the smoking ban: the health of the smoker and those subject to second-hand smoke; reducing the risk of fire and cutting the costs the authority incurs when it preps a unit for a new tenant after a tenant who smoked moves out.

Smoking has long been the target of social engineers, and they’ve been pretty successful in banishing smokers not only from workplaces and other indoor spaces but from outdoor areas like parks and stadiums. (On the same day smoking in public housing was outlawed, the Montco commissioners ordered a smoking ban, including the use of e-cigarettes, in county parks, along county trails and at county historic sites.) But tobacco, which remains a major U.S. industry, isn’t the social engineers’ only target.

Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney wants to impose a tax of 3 cents per ounce on all soda drinks containing sugar sold in the city. Since Philadelphia never seems to have enough money for anything and its schools are the very definition of “disaster,” Kenney says the tax money would be used for “education initiatives and recreational facilities.”

Advocates of the tax like to throw in that it will help curb obesity, although the evidence for that claim is sketchy at best. What’s more, if the tax does encourage a great many people to give up their Pepsi and Coke to try to slim down or just save money, Kenney won’t get the revenue he needs for schools and parks. More likely, the tax won’t make people quit, but it will make them angry and place an added economic burden on those least able to afford it.

Meanwhile in New York City, where a proposed soda tax went flat, City Council just approved a bill that would require most merchants to charge customers at least a nickel (more if they desire) for each grocery or shopping bag, plastic or paper. The merchants would get to keep the money they collect. The idea is to wean customers away from using plastic bags, 10 billion of which the city sanitation department says are tossed in the trash every year. Of course, stores began using plastic bags because of all the trees supposedly felled to produce paper bags.

While all of these laws may be well-intentioned, all of them impose limits on the way we want to live and perhaps the way we could live if government weren’t so eager to inject itself into everything we do.

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