Just don’t burn the Constitution in an ashtray, using matches

D.C.’s transition to its recently enacted smoking ban is having a little difficulty. That would be worth pointing out on its own, but I’m not surprised by that. Anything enforced by the Department of Health’s Bureau of Community Hygiene is bound to be a mess. Instead, I found this to be the most telling example of how liberty is diminished by laws like this:

Then some restaurateurs in Dupont Circle and Adams Morgan complained to the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington that at least one police officer came into their establishments and “confiscated ashtrays and matchbooks from restaurant bar areas, incorrectly declaring them ‘smoking paraphernalia’ according to the mandatory smoking ban law, which they are not,” according to a letter the restaurant association sent to members.

Remember that the police aren’t tasked with enforcing the ban. Who could’ve guessed that they’d overstep their duties as a result of vague laws? However, they confiscated ashtrays and matchbooks as “smoking paraphernalia”? Just because something can be used for a task doesn’t mean it will. It’s possible that the ashtrays could be used as decoration or as trash receptacles for the tables. It’s not likely, but it’s possible. Surely, though, it’s a smaller stretch to think that a matchbook could be used for something other smoking. Perhaps to light candles?

Writing laws that accept only the most obvious assumptions, to the extent that they must then protect everyone at the expense of all other still-acceptable uses, will serve only to further reduce liberty beyond the nefarious intent of the law. D.C. is on that slippery slope already. Food seems to be next in line for the behavior police, so we’d better stock up on plates now, because bowls can be used for ice cream.