Editorial: A Dog-Gone Shame

Why are the "anti's" targeting those of us who actually follow the rules?

Melissa Vonder Haar, Freelance Writer

NEW YORK -- A couple nights ago, I had a troubling experience taking my dog Colby for her nightly constitutional.

As I was in the process of picking up after her, a man started shouting at me for allowing my dog to "defile" his block--despite the fact that a) it was also my block b) we were on a public tree plot nowhere near his building and c) I was cleaning it up. His argument?  Because his block association had put up "no dog" signs in the tree plots, Colby and I had no business being there.

For days I fumed. What right did this man have to target me? Here I was, I responsible dog owner who was braving sub-zero temperatures to exercise my pet, equipped with an entire roll of waste bags to ensure that no trace of her was left behind--I didn't need a sign to remind me to do so. Yet, it wasn't the first time someone had given me grief as a dog owner in the city: I've been scolded by parents worried about dirtying up their strollers, nature-lovers who insist that dogs ruin the trees, even a motorist who ranted about not wanting to step in anything on the curb after parking. It doesn't matter that I actually clean up after Colby or that, as such, I'm also offended by people who don't do the same. The mere fact that I am a dog owner draws the ire of these "antis."

It's a frustration I imagine many tobacco retailers and manufacturers can relate to--even those who aren't dog people. When it comes to youth and tobacco, perhaps no one has been a better ally to organizations such as the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids than retailers. Year after year, retailers score impressively high rates of compliance inspections--the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) 2012 report showed 91% of retailers not selling tobacco to a minor decoy. (SAMHSA's target pass rate is 80%).

And though tobacco manufacturers are even more targeted by anti-tobacco groups for trying to "hook" kids, I'm not sure it's a valid accusation in this day and age. How can this case be made when there are electronic cigarette companies voluntarily enforcing age verification on a product that doesn't yet legally have a minimum age requirement? Whether it's independent e-cig companies like NJOY or Big Tobacco companies like Lorillard, Reynolds and Altria, you'd be hard-pressed to find an e-cig brand that doesn't require age verification and non-self-service displays. I won't argue that nicotine and caffeine are the same thing--but can you imagine Starbucks deciding to not sell coffee to anyone under 18, not because the law required it, but in an effort to keep kids healthy?

This good work doesn't seem to matter to the extremists out there. Because a small (and shrinking) faction of retailers are irresponsible about carding, any retailer that sells tobacco becomes the bad guy. Because the tobacco industry historically has a bad reputation when it comes to youth prevention efforts, modern tobacco companies must also be trying to entice teens into a lifelong habit. Instead of seeing the vast majority of responsible tobacco retailers and manufacturers as allies in the fight to eliminate youth tobacco access, anti-smoking groups all too often classify any retailer or manufacturer as the enemy.

Of course, it can be argued that I've done the same thing here by lumping all the "antis" in as extremists. I'm sure not every group that wants to reduce youth smoking rates views retailers and manufacturers as the enemy--just as I'm sure not every person who wants a clean sidewalk believes New York City should ban dogs altogether. I can't help but wonder how much could be accomplished towards the greater good if, instead of focusing on our differences, we focused on what unites us.

There. I bet that's a significantly more wholesome ending than you'd expected from a story that started with feces.