John Stuart Mills' 1859 essay "On Liberty" says there is only one case when government has an obligation to intercede in one person's freedom: when that freedom hurts another.

Apply that principle to smoking. Georgians have the right to smoke, even if that right negatively affects their own health and well-being. The government has a responsibility, however, to protect the public from being forced to inhale second-hand smoke.

Gov. Sonny Perdue hasn't decided whether he agrees. The GOP-controlled state House and Senate recently approved legislation that bans smoking in public places. Perdue, also a Republican, claims he is wrestling with "really divergent philosophies about this bill."

The governor is doing no such thing. He's checking the winds to determine the political expediency of the ban. If he needs help making up his mind, he should listen to the members of his own party who voted for the ban. Perdue, who visited Valdosta extensively during his gubernatorial campaign, also should return to the Azalea City. He should talk to restaurant owners here, who could help him understand that the smoking ban isn't a hardship for businesses. He should talk to satisfied customers who now enjoy meals with their families minus the second-hand smoke.

Without realizing it, Perdue is allowing voters to draw an unflattering impression of his administration. The governor has no issue with hiding from taxpayers what he will do with their money. Remember the secrecy bills Perdue backed? House Bill 340, the donor privacy bill, would protect confidential financial information of college and university contributors. House Bill 218 would have ensured the state could conduct certain development deals and negotiations in private. When it comes to protecting the public from a proven health hazard -- second-hand smoke -- suddenly the governor turns philosophical.

Perdue must sign or veto the smoking ban, Senate Bill 90, by May 10 or it will automatically become law. By signing the bill, Perdue will place himself on the right side of a public health issue that affects all Georgians.

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