In California, home to a $16 billion deficit, politicians are much more focused on banning products and services they don't like, especially when they involve children, than they are on solving the budget crisis.
In January, a law took effect, banning the over-the-counter sale of cold medicines containing the cough suppressant dextromethorphan to people under the age of 18. Why? Kids must be "saved" from the perils of Robitussin.
Children also need to be sheltered from the evils of tanning. Last October, California became the first state in the country to completely ban everyone under the age of 18 from using indoor tanning beds.
"I know that Snooki on the 'Jersey Shore' has changed to spray tanning," the bill's author, State Sen. Ted Lieu, told CNN. "Spray tanning has no known harmful effects, and you can get tans from lotions or cream."
Of course, Mr. Lieu completely misses the point. Even Snooki has proven capable of making her own tanning decisions. She didn't need Sen. Lieu and state lawmakers to tell her how and where to get the best tan in New Jersey, a state that has not banned tanning beds - yet (though they're thinking about it).
Adults shouldn't feel left out. Legislators in Sacramento are protecting them too. Last year, California banned the sale of caffeinated beer. "The added caffeine masks the effects of the high alcohol content, which can lead to binge drinking and dangerous behavior," worried state Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Pacoima.
California also banned the open carrying of handguns, prohibited the sale of live animals on street corners and public property, and a ban on foie gras, passed way back in 2004, is slated to take effect July 1.
This culture of banning extends to local governments across the state, too. For a prime example, look no further than Laguna Beach. As the Orange County Register reported last month, "Over the last few years, the council has banned plastic bags, skateboarding on several hillside streets, tiki torches, medical marijuana dispensaries, smoking in beaches and parks, and foam take-out containers."
After discussing outlawing helium balloons in April, Laguna Beach Mayor Jane Egly fretted, "Our concern is that folks may be getting a little tired of the council banning things."
"Some of the council is getting tired of the council banning things," Laguna Councilman Kelly Boyd noted.
Nevertheless, the Laguna Beach council voted May 1 to ban pet stores from selling cats and dogs that come from commercial breeders. The council's goal was to prevent 'cruel puppy mills' from making money, so they banned all sales of dogs and cats from breeders. Perfectly legitimate breeders who take great care of their animals and follow every rule in the book are banned, too. Pet stores will only be able to sell dogs obtained from animal shelters and rescue centers.
So where will families who want those adorable golden retriever puppies and other popular breeds that aren't usually found in large numbers at animal shelters shop now? The Laguna council has encouraged a black market for in-demand breeds and puppies.
Misguided lawmakers think if they just keep piling on laws, they'll eventually solve our problems. Styrofoam food containers, for example, are cheap and effective. Banning them kills jobs and raises costs. It also ignores the real problem: littering, which is already illegal. The businesses that make and use the containers and the vast majority of consumers who throw away their trash properly all have to be punished to target the litterers - who will continue to litter.
All of these one-size-fits-all bans show a stunning lack of trust and confidence in consumers. People are perfectly capable of making good judgments about what products they do and do not want to consume. Parents can determine what's best for their kids. Yet, at every level of government, California's lawmakers want to be our nannies. They usually say it is for our own safety, ignoring the fact that we are perfectly capable of deciding how to get a tan, what to put in our bodies and where to buy our pets.
In a Reason.tv video highlighting the proliferation of government-led bans, host Drew Carey asks, "When did so many of us turn into ban-happy busybodies?" It's a question politicians from Laguna to Sacramento should be asking themselves.
Adrian Moore, Ph.D., is vice president of policy at Reason Foundation. This article also appeared in The Orange County Register.