Chris Powell: Raising tobacco-purchase age would do little for city kids

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Why do officials in politically correct cities like Hartford, New Haven and Bridgeport put so much effort into posturing on issues over which they have no serious jurisdiction? Maybe it's to console themselves for their ineffectuality with important matters like the worsening poverty, ignorance, and demoralization of their constituents.

Last week Hartford was at it again as its City Council prepared an ordinance raising to 21 the age for purchasing tobacco products. A week earlier Bridgeport had adopted an ordinance purporting to outlaw homemade plastic guns.

Even as Hartford prepared the tobacco ordinance, several of its high school students got sick in school after consuming marijuana-laced brownies given to them by other students. Marijuana possession by minors is illegal but of course it has been decades since that prohibition deterred anyone, and now both Connecticut and the country are starting to figure that the prohibition might as well be repealed and marijuana sold legally and taxed.

So why does Hartford think that raising the age for tobacco purchases will accomplish anything? Why does Hartford think that minors won't continue to purchase tobacco through older friends, as they do with alcoholic beverages?

And what about the bigger question of the age of majority? How sensible is society when it proclaims 18-year-olds mature enough to vote, serve in the military, and make contracts but not mature enough just to smoke and drink?

Poor judgment will always be part of youth. But an ordinance purporting to protect kids against tobacco in a city where most kids have no father in their home and many have no real parent at all is worse than poor judgment. It's a sick joke by shameless adults.

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VINDICATING THE FLAG: Another flag-salute case has arisen from a public school in Waterbury.

Twenty-five years ago the city's school system tried to punish a black high school student who, calling herself a Communist, refused to salute the flag at the start of the school day. She beat the school system in a lawsuit because school administrators somehow had overlooked or deliberately disregarded a renowned U.S. Supreme Court decision from 1943 forbidding schools from coercing students into making expressions of belief. That decision upheld freedom of conscience, which the country then was defending at profound cost in a world war.

In the new Waterbury case some nonwhite students allege that a teacher has been mocking and shaming them for refusing to rise for the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag, which they say is their way of protesting racial discrimination.

A trial may be needed to determine exactly what has been happening but there should be no doubt about the long-established right not to salute the flag -- just as there should be no doubt that the right not to salute the flag is a powerful reason for saluting it.

Of course the country has not achieved perfect justice. But it never will. It can only keep improving. With its proclamation of "liberty and justice for all," the Pledge of Allegiance will always be largely aspirational. But the heroes of the civil rights revolution 50 years ago accepted this and always carried the flag into the struggle. They succeeded and changed the country and thereby vindicated the flag.

A good teacher would explain this to his students as he acknowledged their right not to salute the flag. If they still refused to salute, he would let them be undisturbed, since, after all, their liberty still would be pretty good advertising for the country.


Chris Powell is a columnist for the Journal Inquirer, in Manchester, Conn.