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Olson: Keep kids out of smokers’ club

Ask anyone you see shivering in an alley or sitting in a smoky car with a cigarette in their hand if they’d like to quit smoking and they’d probably tell you yes, and ask you for a blanket.

Smokers have known their habit is no good for them since the Flintstones were smoking Winstons. But in 2013, there are few things worse than being a smoker.

And yet, some people still want to join the club. Usually, they’re too young to understand what they’re signing up for. And it appears that if they try on a given day, underage people can succeed in buying cigarettes.

This past week, the DeKalb Police had a 16-year-old informant try to buy cigarettes at 29 businesses. They do these checks three times a year.

Six of the clerks sold smokes to the teenager, and the clerks were written tickets that could cost them as much as $500, police said. It wasn’t as good a compliance rate as last time, when only two businesses sold to a teen.

The only really acceptable number is 100 percent compliance. Cigarettes have to be kept away from children, who probably don’t realize what they’re signing up for when they take those first puffs.

I’ve been there. I come from a long line of nicotine fiends. As a child, family Christmas celebrations looked like Philip Morris sponsored a Norman Rockwell painting. One year in the mid-80s, I remember the smokeless ashtray was the “it” gift for the men in the family.

Those smoking adults really set a bad example by never getting sick. Two grandparents smoked more than 50 years and lived into their 80s. It made me think that those Surgeon General’s warnings were for other people.

Well, the one about not smoking while you’re pregnant really is for other people, but the others do apply to me.

I sought cigarettes out myself as a teenager. It would be years before I really needed to shave in any meaningful way, and I wanted to look cool, sophisticated.

You could always find a cigarette machine or a clerk who would wink and give you what you wanted, a restaurant where you could sit for hours and drink coffee and smoke.

Cigarettes cost $2 a pack, unless they were selling them 2 for 1.

Today, a decent pack of cigarettes costs $7 or more, you can’t smoke indoors anywhere this side of Las Vegas or Kentucky, and you can’t smoke in a lot of outdoor places, either. If you do light up in plain sight, you must suffer the silent scorn of the healthier-than-thou.

Stick to it long enough and you become addicted to something that really does kill people prematurely, and those whom it does not kill often suffer with complications in their old age.

Smokers today are addicted members of a marginalized, overtaxed underclass. Although that might have some appeal to a rebellious teenager, it gets old quick.

I’ve stopped smoking. I’ve done it many, many times, actually, but this time I hope for good.

Let’s hope the next police check shows 100 percent compliance. Keeping kids away from cigarettes is one of the best things a stranger can do for them.

But the adults you see smoking – well, leave them be. Unless you have a blanket to offer.

• • • 

Chambers can help: When people talk about businesses, the tendency is to think of (and sometimes to demonize) big, publicly traded firms like General Electric, Verizon, Johnson & Johnson, General Motors and the like.

But it’s important to remember that for every big business, there are about 100 small ones.

Viewed individually, they might seem insignificant. But put them together, and small businesses (those with less than 500 employees) account for half of the jobs in our country, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration. About 25 percent of American workers are employed by firms with 10 to 99 workers.

In Sycamore, where the local Chamber of Commerce reached its goal of recruiting more than 500 members in 2012, small businesses are even more important.

“It’s small businesses that make up the vast majority of our chamber,” chamber President Rob Wilkinson told a gathering of hundreds of people at the chamber’s annual meeting Thursday at St. Mary’s Activity Center in Sycamore.

It’s those entrepreneurs who are chasing the American Dream by running their own small businesses that we’ve got to look out for. They’re the ones taking the risk and hoping for the reward.

Those small businesses also are what give our communities their unique local character, as opposed to the dependable homogeneity of the national chains.

Advocating for small business is one way the local chambers of commerce can make a difference. We need them looking out for the small business owners. It’s in all of our best interest.

• • • 

New board: The chamber might have a lot of new members, but there’s more to be done.

“We’re very excited to getting to that [500 member] milestone, but realize we have work to do,” Wilkinson said.

The people who will be helping with that work include Sycamore Chamber Board members Kevin Buick, Chris DeVlieger, James Tucker, Grant Goltz, Renee Ellingson, Jeff Keicher, Paul Barnaby, Gary Evans, Tom Kuschmann, and Rachel Bauer.

The chamber’s executive committee includes Wilkinson as president, Scott Starkweather as vice president, Tim Beasley as past president, Karen Pletsch as treasurer, and Becky Metcalf.

Good luck to the Sycamore Chamber and its members in 2013.

• • •

Roe v. Wade: This past week, America marked the 40th anniversary of the Roe vs. Wade decision that made legal abortion the law of the land.

I’ve learned a couple of things in my years as a journalist, and one of them is I would rather floss a wildcat’s teeth than tell you what you should think about abortion.

But I did read this week about a Pew Research poll that found only 62 percent of American adults – and only 44 percent of those under 30, the people to whom the ruling is most likely to apply – know the “Roe” case made abortion legal by striking down a Texas law that forbade the termination of pregnancy except to preserve the life of a mother.

A few facts about the Roe case:

• The Supreme Court held, 7-2, that the Fourteenth Amendment’s guarantee of citizen rights to privacy included medical procedures including abortion. The Fourteenth Amendment says states can’t “deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.” Most of the justices agreed that liberty included the right to a medical procedure such as abortion.

• The court ruled that the decision to terminate pregnancy in the first trimester should be left only to a woman and her doctor.

• The court also said that as a pregnancy progressed, states could regulate abortion in the interest of an unborn child, including prohibiting third-trimester abortions except as necessary to save a mother’s life.

• The “Roe” in the case was Norma McCorvey. She brought the case after her third pregnancy, which she unsuccessfully tried to terminate both by falsely claiming she had been raped and by seeking out an illegal abortion. McCorvey has since converted to Christianity and become an anti-abortion activist.

Whether you feel that the law of our land is a travesty or a triumph, I think it’s important people know the facts of what they’re arguing about.

• Eric Olson is the editor of the Daily Chronicle. Reach him at 815-756-4841, ext. 2257, or email

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