Residents demand smoking ordinance

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— There was a full house at the Hayden Town Board meeting on Thursday night as a group calling themselves "Concerned Citizens for a More Healthy Community," presented their case for curtailing teen-age smoking in the town.

Town Board members listened to more than an hour and a half of public comments from parents of smokers and non-smokers, teachers and concerned community members who would like an ordinance passed that would restrict children from using tobacco products in public places.

In addition, the group proposed a town law that would prohibit businesses from selling cigarettes to youths under the age of 19, a restriction they hoped would further lead to the elimination of cigarette smoking by high school age children.

Although raising the purchase age from 18 to 19 wasn't overwhelmingly approved by members of the audience, one thing was clear -- everyone who spoke at the meeting was in favor of working as a community to solve Hayden's teen smoking problem.

"We just want to curtail tobacco use by teen-agers," Concerned Citizens spokesman Bill Hayden said. "If there was a fine it may help with this problem. Sure, they'll go to Steamboat and Craig to buy and smoke cigarettes, but we'll make it harder for them at home. This is a public health issue."

High school principal Nick Schafer spoke in favor of a public smoking ordinance for teens. Schafer deals with the problem every day when he watches as his students walk just off school property to light up their cigarettes.

"Besides being a health hazard, the school buses go past these kids who are smoking every day. Kids in third and fourth grade are on the edge and they see the older kids smoking and think it's OK. These young kids can go either way. This is a real detriment to the younger kids," he said. "I have students missing 30 and 40 hours of school a year for this because they can't wait to get outside and smoke. I believe in deterrents and right now there is none. I would support this."

District health education coordinator Mari Mahana said that health education programs are in place in the schools, but support from the rest of the community is necessary to help curtail the smoking problem.

The teacher spends much of her time standing outside with the smoking teens and talking to them about the negative effects of smoking and using tobacco products.

"Where are we going to draw the line? This is a defiant act for these kids," she said. "I know a possession law won't stop these kids from smoking, but what it will do is keep them out of the public eye and keep them from smoking in public where -- right now -- there are no consequences for doing it. I strongly support an ordinance and a fine."

Kati Keadle, a Hayden High School sophomore who recently kicked a pack-a-day smoking habit, was the voice of teen smokers in favor of an anti-smoking ordinance.

She said such an ordinance would probably curtail the problem if there was a fine and community service associated with it, but she said that enforcing a no-smoking policy more strictly in the school system would also help reduce the number of teen smokers.

"I agree with the idea of a fine for possession of cigarettes. It's just like alcohol; kids are afraid of getting caught and maybe they would be less likely to smoke if there was a fine," she said. "If you enforced this even more in the school it would make it harder. But putting ash trays outside where the kids smoke just seems like an invitation to smoke near the school."

Local police placed sand-filled coffee cans on a small stretch of public property next to the high school in February when cigarette smokers' trash became a problem. The police then began issuing littering tickets to teens tossing trash on the ground.

Kati Keadle's father, Brad Keadle, said that in his opinion, it takes a whole community to raise a child and he is hopeful that the community of Hayden will recognize the need for the town residents to join together to combat teen social problems.

"My daughter started smoking because it was very easy and accepted. If my daughter was smoking or drinking a beer, I would hope that, as part of our village, one of you would try to stop that and call her dad," he said. "No, I don't want you to raise my children, but we need to constantly be watching our kids. I need your help and I hope that if one of my children were doing something bad, you'd bring it to my attention."

Brad Keadle said that his frustration goes beyond students smoking near school.

"When I go to a wrestling match, I see the parents standing right outside the school doors smoking their cigarettes," he said. "I tell my kids to hold their breath when they walk past them so they don't get cancer. Why are parents allowed to smoke just outside the main door to the school? They shouldn't be there either. They're sending mixed messages."

Forrest Frentress agreed with Keadle about the need for parental involvement and passing a smoking ordinance.

"This is a reflection of the adults in the community," he said. "They need to set a good example for their kids and they're not doing it."

When the Town Board last discussed the issue of teen smoking in Hayden, they decided there was little support for an ordinance and that enforcing it would pose a problem.

After Thursday's meeting, though, officers said they didn't anticipate any difficulty in policing teen smokers.

"I don't see a problem enforcing it," Hayden police officer Gordon Booco said.

"It's just like littering and curfew. I don't think it would take too many tickets to get a handle on this problem," he said. "But, I do think that there needs to be a hefty fine and community service hours. That way the parents know about the problem and it's more to the kids than having to pay for it with cash. Make them pay for it with community service time as well."

Police Chief Jody Lenahan agreed with Booco.

"We don't want to harass these kids, but we don't want them to smoke in public or in front of other kids," he said. "Enforcement of this depends on the spirit of the law."

Members of the Town Board were in favor of an ordinance after hearing the comments from the public. Trustee Ken Gibbon said that he was swayed because of the outpouring of public support for such a law.

"The board talked about this in October and I don't think anyone showed up for the meeting. Hearing from the community tonight has influenced my decision," he said.

"It'll take all of us to make this work and I'm in favor of a combination of community service as well as a fine if we pass an ordinance," Gibbon continued. "We'll have many more discussions on this issue and I encourage you all to continue to participate in those discussions."

The Town Board passed a motion to look into drafting an ordinance prohibiting those under the age of 18 from using tobacco products in public.

The Town Board will next meet at 7:30 p.m., May 4, at Hayden Town Hall, 178 West Jefferson Ave.

Town Manager Rob Straebel said the smoking ordinance will likely not be discussed at that meeting because the background research won't be complete yet.


-- To reach Bryna Larsen call 871-4205 or e-mail blarsen@amigo.net

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