Public health interventions have led to dramatic improvements in health and safety for people across the globe. But some increasingly argue that those interventions represent too much of an intrusion into people’s lives.

“We have a growing nanny state today of niggling little regulations where politicians and bureaucrats tell people that they know what’s good for you better than you do and that they can make rules to force you to obey that,” said David Boaz, executive vice president of the Cato Institute.

Boaz was part of a discussion Thursday on the Kojo Nnamdi Show on WAMU-FM in Washington, D.C., which focused on the notion of government’s reach and everyday lives. The program covered how states are handing the precarious balance between responsible protective policies and personal freedoms, ranging from seat belt laws and tobacco bans to mandates that require individuals to have health insurance.

APHA Executive Director Georges Benjamin recognized the challenges of maintaining that balance, but countered the claims of government overreach. “What we try to do, of course, is to educate people first…We try to do things based on experience, and if you can get it done on a voluntary basis, absolutely wonderful.”

But he pointed to tobacco use as a case where oversight is necessary. He reminded listeners that despite the decades of education and mountains of evidence, “smoking remains the single leading preventable cause of death with over 400,000 premature deaths every year.”

According to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, U.S. health care costs from smoking cost $96 billion annually. That alone seems reason for intervention.

You can read more about Thursday’s discussion from the online transcript.

Where do you draw the line between responsible public health oversight and overreach?