Our hats are off to those residents of Hayden who are taking action to try to curb teen smoking in their town.
At the last Hayden Town Board meeting, a group of residents calling themselves "Concerned Citizens for a More Healthy Community" made it clear that they are tired of seeing young people standing in broad daylight on street corners in town, destroying their lungs. One survey by a Steamboat Springs doctor puts the teen smoking rate in Hayden at more than 40 percent. The high school principal says it's closer to 50 percent.
What the Concerned Citizens were urging the Town Board to pass is an ordinance that outlaws possession of tobacco by minors. Right now, it's illegal for teens younger then 18 to buy cigarettes, but it isn't illegal for them to smoke cigarettes. The loophole is bizarre and one that no doubt is kept in place at the federal level by the lobbyists of tobacco companies.
But it is a loophole that can be closed at the local level, and that's just what the Concerned Citizens want the Town Board to do. We join them in their demand for action.
"We just want to curtail tobacco use by teen-agers," spokesman Bill Hayden was quoted as saying at the meeting. "If there was a fine it may help this problem. Sure they'll go to Steamboat and Craig to buy cigarettes, but we'll make it harder for them at home."
This is a case of NIMBY Not In My Back Yard that is applaudable. The parents and teachers of Hayden are saying that they care enough about their young people to discipline them.
The teen-agers who light up on the street corner outside the high school haven't picked that spot because it's the best place to smoke. They smoke there because they will be seen smoking. It's an act of collective defiance. We have no doubt that nicotine and peer pressure are fueling their desire to smoke. But where they smoke is a different kind of decision. Make no mistake, whether they are conscious of it or not, they are testing their elders by lighting up for all to see. They are asking: "Do you see us smoking? Do you care?"
Hayden's adults have answered both questions emphatically: "Yes, we do."
We are not so naive as to believe that another town law by itself will solve the problem of teen smoking. But it is important for two reasons.
First, it sends a message to the young people of the town that, as far as the adults are concerned, teen smoking is a serious issue and one that needs to be addressed on a community level.
Secondly, by attaching a penalty to possession of tobacco, the town will force many teen smokers to face their parents and vice versa. The town would be wise to require that the penalty whether a fine, community service or both be signed off on by a parent. That would keep many teens from continuing to hide their smoking from their parents with toothpaste and a change of clothes. And it will be there, in the home, that the real solutions to teen smoking one child at a time will be found.