Kevin Williamson‘s latest column at National Review Online challenges members of the medical community who want the government to limit smoking among young adults.

As its members suffer from the one-two punch of government micromanagement and malpractice-claim abuse (“malpractice malpractice”?), it is very difficult to sympathize with the American medical profession, which is as meddlesome and sanctimonious a bunch of blue-nosed busybodies as is known to modern man. At the moment, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) is lobbying legislators to raise the minimum age for the purchase of tobacco products from the current norm of 18 to 21. (New York City already has done this; no post-coital indulgence for those precocious Bronx couples!) Its reasons are the predictable ones: Most people who smoke as adults start smoking as teens. But not on their 18th birthday, of course: 80 percent of adult smokers start smoking before they are 18, i.e., before they are legally permitted to do so. There is a dirty little rumor going around that the 21-year drinking age is routinely violated, too.

Pediatrics is the branch of medicine dedicated to the care and treatment of children. And while there is some robust debate about who is a child (see recent queasy debates over age-of-consent laws in South America), a 20-year-old man with a wife and a child is not a child, regardless of what Eric Posner, the dean of students, or Alcalde y Sandinista Jefe Bill de Blasio of Park Slope insists.

The embedded politics here are maddening. We might quibble over whether this particular AAP policy demand is worthy, but much less discussed is the more fundamental question of whether our medical organizations ought to be demanding that the state use its power — the power to throw people into prison and to ruin their livelihoods — to enforce its members’ occasionally quixotic health enthusiasms, and whether government ought to be indulging them in that. Never mind that government-backed health projects often turn out to be wrong — e.g., that starchy food pyramid — we ought to carefully consider whether they ought to exist in the first place.