NEW YORK—Alarmed by the unhealthy choices they make every day, more and more Americans are calling on the government to enact legislation that will protect them from their own behavior.
"The government is finally starting to take some responsibility for the effect my behavior has on others," said New York City resident Alec Haverchuk, 44, who is prohibited by law from smoking in restaurants and bars. "But we have a long way to go. I can still light up on city streets and in the privacy of my own home. I mean, legislators acknowledge that my cigarette smoke could give others cancer, but don't they care about me, too?"
"It's not just about Americans eating too many fries or cracking their skulls open when they fall off their bicycles," said Los Angeles resident Rebecca Burnie, 26. "It's a financial issue, too. I spend all my money on trendy clothes and a nightlife that I can't afford. I'm $23,000 in debt, but the credit-card companies keep letting me spend. It's obscene that the government allows those companies to allow me to do this to myself. Why do I pay my taxes?"
Beginning with seatbelt legislation in the 1970s, concern over dangerous behavior has resulted in increased governmental oversight of private activities. Burnie and Haverchuk are only two of a growing number of citizens who argue that legislation should be enacted to protect them from their own bad habits and poor decisions.
Anita Andelman of the American Citizen Protection Group is at the forefront of the fight for "greater guardianship for all Americans."
"Legislation targeting harmful substances like drugs and alcohol is a good start, but that's all it is—a start," Andelman said. "My car automatically puts my seatbelt on me whenever I get into it. There's no chance that I'll make the risky decision to leave it off. So why am I still legally allowed to drink too much caffeine, watch television for seven hours a day, and, in some states, even ride in the back of a pick-up truck? It just isn't right."
The ACPG has also come out in favor of California's proposed "soda tax," which addresses unhealthy eating habits.
"The legislation, if approved, would establish a tax on sodas and other beverages with minimal nutritional value, and the money would be used to fund programs that address the growing epidemic of childhood obesity," Andelman said. "If our own government doesn't do something to make us get in better shape—or, for that matter, dress a little nicer—who will?"
Rev. Ted Hinson, founder of the Christian activist group Please God Stop Me, said he believes that the government will listen.
"For years, legislators have done an admirable job of listening to constituents who want the dangerous, undesirable behavior of their neighbors regulated," Hinson said. "That is a good sign for those of us who wish for greater protection from ourselves. But you should see the filth I still have access to, just by walking into a store or flipping on my computer. There is still much work to be done if we are going to achieve the ideal nanny-state."
Bernard Nathansen, an attorney for the Personal Rights Deferred Center in Oakes, VA, is one of many individuals working to promote "governmental accountability." His organization arranges class-action lawsuits on behalf of Americans who have been hurt by the government's negligence, including individuals who suffer health problems related to overexposure to sunlight.
"We can all agree that many choices are too important to be left up to a highly flawed individual," Nathansen said. "Decisions that directly affect our health, or allow us to expose ourselves to potential risks, should be left to the wiser, cooler heads of the government."
"But things like food and drug labels are half-measures," Nathansen said. "The regulations, however well-intentioned, often allow citizens the choice of ignoring the instructions. Many current laws were written primarily to protect others from our dangerous actions, with no concern for the deleterious effect our actions can have on ourselves. The government must do more."
To this end, Personal Rights Deferred has compiled an action list of more than 700 behaviors it wants regulated by state or federal authorities. The list includes such risky behaviors as swimming in cold weather and staying up all night playing video games.
"The fact is, personal responsibility doesn't work," Nathansen said. "Take a good look at the way others around you are living, and I'm sure you'll agree. It's time for the American people to demand that someone force them to do something about it."