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FIRST-PERSON: I don’t smoke, but….

McMINNVILLE, Ore. (BP)–If you choose to smoke in the United States of America, you are viewed, by many, as little better than a pedophile. The only thing that separates you from a child predator, in the mind of some, is the fact that, for now at least, your choice is legal.

If you are a smoker, don’t bother applying for a job with the city of St. Cloud, Fla. The Orlando Sentinel reported recently that the municipality, located near Orlando, has instituted a policy that refuses to allow anyone who uses tobacco products to be hired.

As a condition of employment St. Cloud officials require all job candidates to sign affidavits swearing they have been tobacco-free for 12 months. The city’s “get-tough policy” is aimed at reducing health-care costs and improving productivity and extends beyond the workplace to personal behavior away from the job.

Parents who are smokers beware if you live in New York. The March 25 issue of the New York Law Journal reports that New York Supreme Court Justice Robert F. Julian has banned a divorced mother from smoking when her son stays with her. The boy is 13 and lives with his father and grandparents. He has overnight visits with his mother that will come to an end if she lights up while he is in her home.

Judge Julian’s decision is groundbreaking. Previous rulings restricting a parent or parents from smoking have all involved children who had some illness that would be exacerbated by secondhand smoke. The boy in this case has no such ailment and is not allergic to tobacco smoke.

It mattered not that the mother never actually smoked in the presence of the boy when he visited. Reports indicate that she would go into the bathroom to light up so her son would not be subjected to the smoke from her cigarette. Judge Julian rendered his decision because, in his words, it was in the “best interests” of the boy.

If the action of the city of St. Cloud and the ruling of Judge Julian are allowed to stand, it could signal an ominous new day in the “land of the free.” It seems that legal — albeit unhealthy — behavior can now officially be persecuted. It is smoking today, but what will be next?

“Obesity exacts a higher toll on health and healthcare costs than either smoking or drinking as obesity-related problems like diabetes are near epidemic levels” is the conclusion of a recently released study. The author of the study, Ronald Sturm, cited more hours in front of the television, less physical activity and a car-obsessed culture as significant contributors to American’s growing obesity problems. In a December 2001 report, the U.S. Surgeon General blamed the growing girth of Americans on diet and urged people to cut back on sugar and fats.

If obesity is a significant and expensive health problem, what is to keep a judge — or any government entity, i.e. city or state — from mandating behavior modification for anyone losing the battle of the bulge? The actions by Judge Julian and the city of St. Cloud could well be lifting the lid on Pandora’s proverbial box. Are diet police, TV monitors, required neighborhood physical fitness groups, and restrictions on auto use near one’s residence on the horizon? If these behaviors are in the best interests of individuals and society at large (no pun intended), why not?

For the record, I do not smoke and I would encourage anyone who does to do all in his or her power to quit. There is no doubt tobacco products are not part of a healthy lifestyle. That being said, they are a legal and, I might add, a heavily regulated part of American society.

Non-smokers might applaud the recent decisions in New York and Florida. However, as previously stated, if these actions are allowed to stand, they pose serious threats to liberty in this country.

To risk trivializing a sober observation by one who was imprisoned by Hitler in World War II, I offer the following adaptation as food for thought: When they came for the smokers, I did not smoke; therefore I was not concerned. When they came for those who over-ate, I did not over-eat, therefore I was not concerned. When they came for the couch potato, I was not a couch potato; therefore I was not concerned. When they came for me because I dared to drive my car to the corner convenience store, there was no one left to be concerned.
Boggs, whose column appears in Baptist Press each week, is pastor of Valley Baptist Church, McMinnville, Ore.

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  • Kelly Boggs