Letter: You can’t legislate social issues away

Published 7:54 pm Wednesday, April 3, 2019

So the Albert Lea city council passed an ordinance that 18- to 20-year-olds can’t purchase tobacco products but they can possess and use them?

I fail to see the point.

If they don’t have a 21-year-old or older friend or family member to buy them for them, they just need to drive out of town to get them. Oh, they can’t just go down to the corner and buy a pack, no. Now they’ll be more likely to save up their money and buy a carton, since they have to go out of town anyway. Possibly increasing their habit. Anyone who thinks that’s a real deterrent knows very little about teenagers and even less about addiction. And I have a bridge in Brooklyn they might be interested in purchasing.

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I grew up in the ’60s and ’70s. Seemingly everyone was sneaking smokes and worse. I and many of my classmates did not cave in to peer pressure — not because of any moral issue, but because it was gross. I always felt that if smoke inhalation is what kills most people in burning buildings, why would I want to suck it directly into my lungs? Guess I’m in the minority.

Far more effective than legislation is education. Sure, all kids are told at a fairly young age about the health risks, but showing teens a few shots of jaws eaten away from chew might be more effective. How about showing them the yellow fingernails and teeth of smokers. The smell on their clothes and their breath. Most teens I know (especially young girls) are quite appearance conscious. Maybe just let them know that nicotine is an insecticide. Wanna suck on a can of Raid?

The real point is that this is a complex issue that can’t be solved by any easy answers, unfortunately, not even the ones I mentioned. It takes work and effort on many fronts. You can’t simply legislate social issues away. Compound that with addiction and the difficulties only increase.

But this ordinance does nothing to help solve the issue and the only ones truly affected by this are Albert Lea area businesses that stand to lose customers and revenue — and not to other Albert Lea businesses, but to other communities! Seems like an odd thing for Albert Lea’s city council to want to do.

And in today’s racially charged atmosphere I’d hate to see a white clerk try to tell a group of under-21 people of color from the Twin Cities or out-of-state (or vice versa, in fact) that there’s a town ordinance prohibiting the sale of tobacco to them. Bad enough that instead of simply swiping an ID at the register, they’ll now have to do the math to figure out the prospective purchaser’s age. That ought to speed things up at Kwik Trip.

No, I don’t think I have the answers, but I do recognize a useless complication when I see one. And the one thing I do dread seeing as a result of this is the headline: “Albert Lea 18-year-olds killed in car crash on icy roads,” because they were driving out of town to buy cigarettes.

John Nordland II

Albert Lea