It’s easy to overlook a series of important entries for Tuesday’s council meeting. They’re in the consent agenda, a listing that rarely draws much discussion. But these five items deserve a bit of a spotlight.
Back in early February, the Ottumwa Police Department did one of its occasional forays into local stores, testing whether they would follow the law restricting the sale of tobacco and tobacco products. It’s pretty simple: if you’re under age 18, the sale shouldn’t happen.
But location after location flubbed this one. Salespeople at four locations were cited over that weekend. Four more were cited a couple days later, when police ran checks at other locations. Settlement agreements in several of those cases are up for approval Tuesday evening.
What should concern people here is that this really isn’t that difficult. It takes little time or effort to ask for an ID. And that step should be automatic if there’s any question about whether a person is under age 18 for tobacco or 21 for alcohol.
We get that there will be mistakes. People get into a rush, especially when there’s a line forming. Clerks can be distracted by what’s happening in their personal lives. As long as there are people involved, perfection isn’t going to be possible.
But eight separate incidents in just a couple days’ time suggests that these sales weren’t the result of distraction or a rush of customers. Rather, the numbers suggest there was considerable indifference to the requirement. That’s a problem.
There’s a flip side for consumers as well. Anyone who has worked in a gas station or convenience store has stories about someone going ballistic when they’re asked for an ID. “Do I look that young?” is the most polite way it’s expressed, and the question is usually put much more pungently.
Folks, take a minute to dig out your license or ID, and can the snark. It’s not like the clerk is asking for you to perform one of the labors of Hercules. And, until you’re the one paying the fine if the clerk gets things wrong, you don’t really have a gripe.
Tuesday’s batch of settlement agreements covers five of the sales from February. Several of the stores are offering affirmative defenses, which allow vendors to avoid civil penalties if the infraction takes place no more frequently than once every four years. A couple face stiff fines.
As much as anything, we hope these incidents give a new incentive to businesses and clerks to make sure they’re following the sales laws for tobacco and alcohol. Most do, and we thank them for doing so. But a reminder never hurts.
We’re all probably better off not smoking or drinking. Both, though, are legal and we see no good argument for changing that. It was tried, remember, and Prohibition didn’t work out so well. The right to indulge in either practice comes with the responsibility to do so within the existing legal framework.
So give the clerks a break when they ask for your ID. They’re doing their job. And it’s for everyone’s benefit that it’s done correctly.