The long arm of California government will soon reach into cars and grab cigarettes from the mouths of smokers.

Senate Bill 7, passed by a party-line vote and signed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, will make it illegal to smoke in a car with any passengers under 18. Beginning next year, violators will face $100 fines if caught puffing with kids in tow.

The law is nanny government at its very worst. It is intrusive meddlesome, paternalistic and brings Sacramento's politicians a step closer to moving into our very homes and telling us to raise our kids and live our lives. Will parents of the future live in fear of police raids and arrests for having too much junk food or transfat in the larder or too much wood-stove smoke in the air?

If a few more bills like SB 7 are passed, the notion will become more than a paranoid nightmare: Big Brother, it seems, is jumping from the pages of George Orwell's "1984" to 21st Century California.

To their credit, none of Tuolumne or Calaveras county's legislators voted for the bill, introduced by Long Beach Democrat Jenny Oropeza. Voting "no" were State Senators Dave Cogdill and Dave Cox and Assemblyman Tom Berryhill, all Republicans.

And it's not like any of our lawmakers think smoking with kids in the backseat is a good idea. In fact the vast majority of Californians no doubt agree that it's stupid and harmful.

But just because something is stupid and harmful doesn't mean it requires a law. Forgotten in the mad, politically correct scramble for moral high ground have been the apparently bizarre notions that constituents may have a measure of common sense and deserve to make at least a few of their own choices.

With SB 7 on the books, how far behind can laws against taking kids to fast-food restaurants, not requiring them to get sufficient exercise, failing to slather on sufficient sun block and not giving them sweaters on cold days?

First, however, would come a law making it illegal for parents to smoke on their own property. After all, what good does prohibiting smoking in cars do when mom and dad are puffing away the rest of the day at home?

Don't laugh: The city of Belmont, on the San Francisco peninsula, has already passed an ordinance banning smoking in condos and apartments.

That and SB 7 are the latest moves against the nation's most oppressed minority: smokers.

Face it, government is piling on.

First banned from offices, restaurants and bars, smokers are now unwelcome in city parks, playgrounds and other outdoor venues where second-hand smoke, presumably, blows away. And in California and a few other states, the nicotine narcs are reaching into cars and homes.

And all the while lawmakers are levying nearly punitive taxes on cigarettes and using the proceeds to fund a smorgasbord of state and federal programs, many which have little or nothing to do with smoking-related ailments or helping people quit.

In light of all this, the passage of Senate Bill 7 is not surprising.

But, considering that California faces serious prison, water supply, education and environmental issues that should be at the top of the legislative agenda, it's very disappointing.

Union Democrat editorial positions are formed through regular meetings of the newspaper's editorial board Publisher Geoff White; editor Teresa Chebuhar; managing editor, news Craig Cassidy; senior reporter-columnist Chris Bateman.