06/23/2014 09:38 am ET Updated Aug 23, 2014

Enforcing Good Behavior: The Checkout Line Shouldn't Be the Front Line in Battling Alcohol and Drug Abuse

It seems that teenagers are not being as bad as they used to be.

A new study of 13, 000 American teenagers by the Centers for Disease Control has found that our nation's youth are drinking and smoking less than previous years.

According to the study, 35 percent of youth surveyed stated that they had consumed liquor in the previous month, which was down from 35 percent the year before. Also, only 16 percent had smoked a cigarette in that time period, which was the lowest level since the government began studying such behavior.

The CDC actually has a Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System (YRBSS) that monitors six categories of "health-risk behaviors," including alcohol and drug abuse, tobacco use, unhealthy dietary behaviors, physical inactivity, behaviors that contribute to unintentional injuries and violence, and sexual behaviors that contribute to STDs and unintended pregnancies.

"I think the bottom line is that our teens are choosing health," said Tom Frieden, head of the CDC.

If the kids surveyed are indeed telling the truth, the stats on the surface indicate that our young people are imbibing and partying less. The findings also illustrate how the government is trying to monitor and control our kids' behavior.

But what is not being discussed is this: the evolution of government curbs designed to limit the excesses of our teens, and even the general population through a combination of higher excise taxes and age limits, mandatory demands for proof at the register, and educational (propaganda) efforts that infringe on our right to choose what we eat and drink and how we medicate ourselves.

Here's an example: Recently, I went with my wife and daughter to Walmart and found myself being forbidden to buy my weekly purchase of one can of Foster's Lager because my 15-year-old was standing in line as I checked out.

The check-out girl, who could not have been older than 18 herself, first demanded my proof of age (I look a little younger than my 56 years, but not much) and I dutifully produced it. Then she said in no uncertain terms that I couldn't buy my Foster's because I had an underage child accompanying me at the checkout.

"As long as she is with you, I can't sell you alcohol," she said

While this refusal appeared ridiculous, it spoke volumes about the intrusion into our lives that has been institutionalized in our nation.

The American cashier is now tasked not only with ringing up sales, but enforcing harsh laws against alcohol and drug consumption.

And that's not right. As an adult living in a free society, I should not have to prove to a cashier that I'm not going to slip a can of Foster's to my underage daughter on the ride home from Walmart.

And it's just not beer. Most states now restrict the sale of common cough medicines and have implemented laws that make cashiers demand ID proof that the purchaser is 18 years old. NyQuil and other products contain pseudoephedrine, dextromethorphan, and other products that can be abused by consumers. So, our governments insist that you get interrogated on the checkout line about these products too.

So while we may be celebrating improved "health statistics," we need to start questioning whether the legal measures enacted to achieve these results make sense. Governments are reducing business regulation. They also should eliminate some of the intrusive rules that impinge on our personal habits -- whether they be good or bad.

After consulting with a Walmart manager, I was "allowed" to buy my Foster's, and I even offered my daughter a sip at dinner. She's been instructed not to tell the truth to the CDC if they call, which is what I suspect those kids surveyed did too.

Published in Florida Context on June 17, 2014

Steven Kurlander blogs at Kurly's Kommentary ( and writes for Context Florida and The Huffington Post and can be found on Twitter @Kurlykomments. He lives in Monticello, N.Y. Column courtesy of Context Florida.