Saturday, September 6, 2014

Big Brother at the Giant?

Imagine you nip into the store to buy condoms. You aren't feeling particularly chatty, so you opt for the self check out. Then, this happens: your purchase triggers the machine to require a staff member to come do a manual reset (like you are buying NyQuil) and then, you get asked for ID.

At this point you would probably feel like an enormous, light-up arrow is pointing directly at you. As the kids say, "Awkward."

Yes, this has really happened, right here in Howard County, at the Hickory Ridge Giant. I learned of this through a posting on Facebook by Cynthia Vaillancourt. It piqued my curiosity as I had just been reading through the Howard County Public Schools Health and Human Sexuality curriculum, which covers contraceptives at the eighth grade level.

Did you guys know the Hickory Ridge Giant sometimes "cards" young people trying to buy condoms? Apparently it is not official store policy (according to regional manager) - but when you go through the self check out line a cashier has to come over and do the manual when you're buying NyQuil. Terrible public health policy - on so many levels. The Health Department has been very helpful in helping me get this addressed. I am assured it is now fixed ... however... if anyone experiences this, please let me know.

In the first incident I became aware of, when the cashier came over to do the override, she asked the young man for ID. He said "are you kidding me?" she told him you have to be 18 to buy condoms.

There is no law on age to buy condoms, and since we have been trying to teach kids and the public to use condoms to avoid disease ... putting an obstacle like that in the way is counter-productive.The Health Department has spoken to Giant, and I have been in touch with the regional manager who insists it isn't store policy, and no one should be asking for I.D. ---- and yet, the next day I sent a youngish person through the self checkout and sure enough, the manager/cashier had to come over and do the manual over ride. At least she didn't ask for I.D. that time.

(The good news: she videotaped the transaction. The bad news: I haven't figured out how to embed it here. Check back later. --jam)

Our school system and our County Health Department want young people to understand and use safe sex methods if they chose to have sex. It's a public health issue on so many levels: preventing both teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. They are not encouraging anyone to be sexually active. In fact, the HCPSS curriculum is heavy on support for abstinence. But I could see how fear of being carded might negatively impact adolescents who are actually trying to be responsible.

It looks like everyone Ms. Vaillancourt reached out to is working to rectify this situation, including Giant and the Health Department. It does seem odd to me that Giant says this hasn't been happening when it clearly has. It makes me wonder if this is happening at other Giant locations because, if it is in their checkout protocol, wouldn't it be on all their computers? It doesn't seem likely that it would be in just one retail location.

I'd be interested to hear if this practice is more widespread. I certainly hope not. We don't want anyone, whether deliberately or by accident, breaking the law and discouraging safe, responsible behaviors.

A tip of the hat to Ms. Vaillancourt for taking this one on for our young people and our community.




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