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Back when kids could ‘buy’ smokes for parents to Walmart stopping sales
Dennis Wyatt new mug
Dennis Wyatt

I used to buy cigarettes as a 9-year-old.

The brand was Pall Mall.

The grocery clerk at East Avenue Market sold them to me. So did the cashier at Lincoln Pharmacy.

My mom approved of it.

This is the same parent that had no qualms with me walking almost two miles one-way to school and then back again in rain, fog or 100-degree heat.

And she had no problem with the fact it involved crossing two state highways including one — Highway 65 — that had heavy truck traffic, no school crossing guards, and no traffic signals. The other state route, Highway 193, often had logging trucks.

No, my mother was not Ma Barker. Nor was she on the Child Protection Services’ “Ten Most Wanted List.”

This was back in the mid-1960s.

People smoked in restaurants. They smoked in cars. They smoked in jury rooms.

Cable TV, the back of milk cartoons and the Internet hadn’t made parents fearful their kids would be abducted by a stranger.

A little rain or a lot of heat wasn’t treated like the plague.

Most parents weren’t worried their kids wouldn’t pay attention crossing the street. That was mainly because they drilled into them what they should do.

Children were free-range kids before some six-figure child psychologist coined the phrase.

So how did I turn out?

Well, there are more than a few people that might answer such a query with the words “not too well.”

I have no health problems related to cigarette smoking despite getting my lungs full of the acid smoke in my early years at restaurants as well as in my early twenties covering marathon City Council meetings in Lincoln and Rocklin that would last five to six hours where the visibility by 1 a.m. rivaled that of being socked in with dense fog.

I credit my lack of smoke-related health problems to the fact I never smoked.

Even though today you have to show ID that you are 21 before a clerk will unlock a cabinet to sell you cigarettes, all it took back then for a nine-year-old to buy them was a note from a parent.

It would simply say “my son Dennis” has permission to buy cigarettes for me” with my mom’s signature.

They, of course, knew my mom. Any trips to the store included bringing back some other items such as bread, milk, and such. It’s amazing how quick you can get groceries delivered to your home you need that day without having to use your Amazon app while at the same time your kids get exercise.

The days of parents  scribbling notes to buy things for them that are now kept under lock and key and require you to show valid California ID even if you look older than Mick Jagger in order to purchase them are long gone.

So is the image of visiting your family physician as a kid after gravity aborted a tree climbing challenge and having the doctor put out his cigarette in an ash tray as he entered the exam room.

Those days were back in the mid-1960s when no one outside of Rogers, Arkansas had ever heard of Sam Walton or Walmart. It’s when Kmart was all the rage and kids chewed candy cigarettes or bubblegum cigars with complete abandon.

Candy and gum marketed as cigarettes and cigars? What heathens, right?

Today the politically correct crowd would have consumed so many digital bytes raging on social media that some self-serving prosecutor would find a way to use statutes aimed at fighting organized crime to put the officers of confection companies selling candy cigarettes in prison for 10 years to life for marketing “poison” to children.

It’s ironic in a way that no one seems too concerned about candy per se being too accessible to kids unless, of course they are shaped like cigarettes.

Despite having eaten my share of candy cigarettes and chewed a number of bubblegum cigars I have never smoked the real version of either.

That said I’ve been known to pop plain M&Ms the way some junkies pop pills.

I’m not saying treat candy like cigarettes or even arguing for the banning of what is viewed as poison in the form of tobacco products or taxing to smithereens sugary drinks et al. We all have our vices and when you’re an adult it’s a personal choice. The only proviso being the use of such shouldn’t impact the comfort and health of others and you accept the responsibility for over indulging whether it is lung and heart related issued from tobacco products or health and heart issues from sweets.

Walmart’s recent decision this week to remove cigarettes from some of their stores in California and several other states is not being done under the hammer of woke submission nor is it being driven by a desire to create a certain company image.

Cigarettes are still available at more than 200,000 locations in the United States — primarily gas stations and convenience stores— across the country. Walmart’s decision doesn’t reduce the ease of which cigarettes can be purchased for those that want to partake.

At the same time Walmart isn’t caving into demands that since cigarettes have been determined to be dangerous to health, they must clear cigarettes from their shelves. There are a lot of things sold at Walmart — as well as hardware stores, supermarkets, and even health food stores — that can be used to kill you if used incorrectly, overindulge in a repetitive cand consistent  manner or weld as a weapon.

Walmart’s decision was driven by the changing times.

There is a shift from expanding stores to remodeling to address increased business volumes.

The space the locked-up cigarettes occupy in select stores are being converted to more self-serve checking.

It’s a business decision regarding the most effective use of space and manpower now pushing $20 an hour in some markets as cigarette purchases requires the verifying of identification and the locking and unlocking display cabinets.

The world has changed a lot since the day a parent could send a kid to the store carrying a note to allow them to buy them a pack of smokes.

Back then you still needed a clerk to check you out of the store and take your money.

You can’t do that today if you’re selling cigarettes that are under lock and key.

This column is the opinion of editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinions of The Courier or 209 Multimedia.