One writer asks: how serious are we about tobacco?

Many years after the huge tobacco settlement that was going to end this scourge forever, what have we learned?

We know that if our children are not hooked by age 18, they likely never will be. Now we seek yet another age manipulation to make that happen, but will it really change this game we are playing with children’s lives?

On Jan. 24, at a regular MSSA meeting at Minnesota State University, Mankato, a presentation was made by Kelly McIntee of the Minnesota Lung Association. She was here to thank our senators for the resolution they had passed at an earlier meeting, which supported an ordinance to raise the purchase age of tobacco to 21. On the surface, it looks like a common sense next step, but there are a number of issues challenging this hopeful outcome.

Kids are more cunning than most of us give them credit for. We are invading their space and challenging them yet again. It started with the brilliant idea that if we raised the age to buy tobacco to 18, we could force compliance. It stopped nothing. So, getting rid of cigarette machines was the next big fix to end this killer habit, but other kids worked behind the counters.

The unaddressed problem was defensive smokers out there who were perpetuating the myth that “at least tobacco is better than smoking marijuana.” There are always plenty of these well-meaning people willing to save the next generation by giving them tobacco. Then along came the compliance checks. They did a pretty good job of scaring cashiers but did little to reduce the number of child addicts.

Is anyone else getting the idea that we are missing something here? Perhaps if we look at what we haven’t done, or at least not done efficiently. How about working with the source of the problem: the kids who have a tolerance level to nicotine before they ever start. Yes, I am talking about the parents who smoke. Simply put, helping them to quit stops the cycle of addiction.

This is only one component of the parent issue; in Minnesota, parents are still allowed to buy their children tobacco products. If we are truly serious here, they need to face the same fine as the merchant. Just as with all drugs, they are not only purchasing for their kids, but every other kids their kids are smoking with.

As bad as that is, it is not even the worst of it. Down the road from campus is a treatment facility for juveniles called Hazelton. If you drive out there any day of the week and wait around for these kids’ break times, you will witness them stand brazenly out in front of the facility smoking tobacco products in direct violation of state law. (A warning: do not take pictures of them, that will be considered a violation of their rights as juveniles. I hope you catch the irony of this situation.)

These facilities have an extremely high recidivism rate because they refuse to deal with the primary addictive substance: tobacco. If those same children get locked up in detention, their tobacco products are taken away, but the law is not enforced in these treatment facilities. Ask them why—you won’t believe their reasoning for this. When will our existing laws be enforced? This brings up the final question: if we won’t protect our children, what do we stand for?

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