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In Which I Am Old Enough To Smoke And Corporations Trump Government

May 18th, 2012 No comments

Me: I’d like a pack of Marlboros, please
Cashier: Sure. Do you have any ID?
Me: I have plenty of ID.
Cashier: May I see it?
Me: No.

I will turn 50 soon and though I’ve been told I look younger (“43 at most”), I most certainly don’t look like I’m 18. Or even 28. In Massachusetts, the law says ID must be provided if the consumer appears to be under 27.  But, apparently, corporate rules trump government law so I keep getting carded at CVS.

Big deal, you’re thinking. Just show them your ID and continue sauntering towards your slow , self-inflicted death. This is a big deal, though, on a couple of levels. It’s about common sense, free will and, yes, training people how to subsume both in the service of a corporation. It’s the last part that concerns me.

I do my best to stay away from CVS in general, keeping my purchases to toothpaste and my medication which obviously needs adjusting. When I do buy smokes from there, it’s usually late and every place else is closed. Out of boredom, tiredness or disdain, the cashier pops in some made up date of birth (most likely making me passive-aggressively older than I am), I pay them and, transaction complete, we leave each other alone. This is how it should work.

The daytime is a different matter. During the day, there’s  managers that wants to climb the corporate ladder and so will do everything according to the laws of CVS rather than the state. CVS, I’ve been told, has a card-everyone policy. It doesn’t matter if you’re 18 or 80. If you buy cigarettes, you’re suspect. You are too stupid to know if the elderly woman in the Hoveround with the oxygen mask buying Eve 12os truly fits the age criterion. Seriously. I had a CVS manager tell me that. “Yes, she would be carded.”

The problem with this is that it’s stupid and detrimental to society since CVS’s policy, while arguably egalitarian, serves to separate the community rather than encourage interaction and mindfulness. The cashier is trained, in the best corporate tradition, not to think but to become part of an assemblage of if-then statements. That woman in the wheelchair doesn’t need to be remembered. Once she present ID, the cashier can clear cache and go onto the next transaction. Cashiers are encouraged to be goldfish, reacting to every customer as a brand new customer.That concerns me.

What concerns me more can be illustrated by the following interaction:

Me: I’d like a pack of Marlboro, please
Cashier: Sure. Do you have any ID?
Me: I have plenty of ID.
Cashier: May I see it?
Me: No.
Cashier: I need to see ID to sell you cigarettes.
Me: Ok. I will prove that I’m old enough to buy cigarettes after you prove to me you’re old enough and legally allowed to work here.
Cashier: Um…
Me: Seriously. I don’t know how old you are and if you’re a citizen of the US or have a green card. If we’re going to follow rules, let’s follow rules.
Cashier: I don’t have to prove that, sir.
Me: Neither do I. Massachusetts state law says card under 27. I am obviously over 27.
Cashier: Our corporate policy states….
Me: Corporate policy? Are you actually claiming that my right to buy cigarettes is based on your corporate policy as opposed to the laws of the state we’re in? Really?
Cashier: Um…err….(Picking up the phone) Manager to the front!

Perhaps I’m treading a like between valid concern and paranoia but to allow corporate laws to trump government laws makes me squinchy. When a company regulates the behavior of a citizen bad things happen. You can argue that no one should smoke and these checks act as a deterrent. There’s a shame factor. While I support not smoking in the workplace, is it right and proper to penalize someone for a legal action, such as smoking, by pushing them outside into a snow storm and not provide shelter? I’ve had private security guards tell me that I couldn’t smoke on the street in front of their building because of corporate policy.

That’s kind of scary whether you smoke or not.