School officials back ban on teen smoking

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— It may not make Hayden High School students quit smoking, but it might deter younger children from starting. For that reason, school officials are wholeheartedly supporting a recent community effort to enact a new underage smoking law.

A proposed town ordinance would make it illegal for minors anyone under the age of 18 to possess or use tobacco products.

"It looks like the bill is going to pass. Just the fact that there is one is a help," Hayden High School Principal Nick Schafer said.

"The tone of the law won't be to harass students, and I don't expect anyone to quit because their principal tells them to. My problem is with the smoking taking place at a bus stop, for example, or in front of the school, where elementary kids are exposed. A group of 15 smokers usually includes 10 or so who are middle-school aged. They're just starting earlier and earlier, and we hope this bill will help keep those young kids from starting," Schafer explained.

"The hope is that there won't be kids smoking in public," school district Health Services Coordinator Mari Mahanna agreed.

It may take several years of turnover within the schools for the bill to really start being effective, Schafer said. Starting with elementary students now will help ensure a better climate in the high school in years to come, he added.

Not all Hayden residents support the ordinance.

"Smoking is a health, not a moral issue, so allowing young people to make up their own minds and determine their own destinies promotes the development of responsibility the key to good behavior," resident and grandmother Rosamond Garcia wrote in a letter to the Hayden Valley Press.

More rules and regulations, police enforcement, and school involvement seem misguided, Garcia said.

"Young persons, children of all ages, learn to become responsible by having the opportunity to make responsible choices. If all choices are closed by fiat, young persons can only rebel or become mindless robots doing as they are told," Garcia said.

It would be better to allow teens to smoke if they want to, but teach them to be courteous and responsible in the presence of those who are allergic or offended by the smoke, Garcia said.

The proposed ordinance is town government's effort to curb underage smoking. Schools are taking their own approach to smoking cessation programs.

"We are also beginning and health and education program in the schools," Mahanna said.

The American Cancer Society's stop-smoking program is going to be used in the schools next year. Hayden schools will be pilots for the program.

The program will offer different, positive incentives for students to quit smoking, although Mahanna is not yet sure what those incentives will be.

To reach Bonnie Nadzam call 871-4205 or e-mail bnadzam@amigo.net

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