This is a story about Stephanie. When she was 16 she had her first cigarette, in the back of her friends car. Her friend lit up a cigarette for herself and then offered Stephanie one. Stephanie knew that smoking was bad for you, but everyone else she knew had tried it. She wanted to feel like she fit in. She smoked the cigarette and thought to herself, “Hey, this is pretty cool. I feel so relaxed. Two years later, Stephanie was a senior and smoking a pack a day. She found it hard to make it through her eight hour school day without having a smoke. She knew she was addicted, but liked the fact that she was part of the smoking crowd in her school. Four years later and about 450 packs of cigarettes later, Stephanie was in college, and addicted as ever. She knew she wanted to quit, but didn’t think she could hack it with all the stress of college. She wished that she had never had that first cigarette when she was 16, because she wouldn’t be addicted now. If there had been a law, prohibiting teenage smoking, she never would have started.
According to the National Institute of drug abuse, each day, 3,000 teens smoke their first cigarette. That is more that one million annually. Despite government attempts, teenage smoking is rising in alarming numbers. In fact, in Ohio 35 percent of high-school kids smoke. A number way above the 24 percent of adult smokers. Ohio needs a tough law to prohibit teens from smoking, so that these percentages will be smaller in upcoming years.
The government needs to target teenagers, because they will become the future smokers. Instead of concentrating on addicted adults, they should be preventing young people from starting. It is hard to get adults who have been smoking for numerous years to stop. It’s much easier to prevent youth from starting. In January of 1998, cigarette manufacturer, Philip Morris, admitted that the company had monitored the smoking habits of people as young as twelve because, “today’s teenager is tomorrow’s potential customer.” This is a very true statement. According to a Bill introduced into the House of Representatives this past April, “almost 90 percent of adult smokers began at or before age 18.” And people who begin smoking at an early age are more likely to develop severe levels of nicotine addiction than those who start at a later age. According to these finding, the government would find it easier to prevent teenage smoking from starting, than to deal with the repercussions of it later.
Teenage smoking is a problem for various reasons. It is a serious danger to health. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, smoking is responsible for and estimated one in five U.S. deaths and costs the U.S. at least $92 billion each year in health care costs and lost productivity. Cigarette smoking during childhood and adolescence produces significant heath problems among young people, including cough and phlegm production, and an increase in the number and severity of resperatory illnesses, decreased physical fitness, and potential retardation in the rate of lung growth and the level of maximum lung function. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, more Americans die each year from smoking related illnesses than Americans that are killed each year by AIDS, alcohol, car accidents, murders, suicides, illegal drugs, and fires combined.” Now that is the best proof I can think of that smoking is bad problem.
Although most teens are aware of the risk factors, many still continue to smoke. According to Trish Fraser, a trustee of the Smoke-free Coalition, when kids were asked why they started smoking, they gave two contradictory answers. They wanted to be part of a crowd. Children do not want to be left out, they want to be wanted. If their peers are smoking, than they will want to smoke as well. They want to reach out and rebel at the same time.
The government has issued regulations to limit the accessibility and appeal of tobacco products to young people. Steps to control underage smoking have not helped. Even under penalty of the law, businesses continue to sell tobacco products to minor. Vendors now have to card any one who is under the age of 27. It is a burden for minimum wage employees to play a constant age guessing game. The government is punishing the vendors, but not the teens. The government has also raised the price of cigarettes, but many teens don’t think this will stop them. In an article published in the Akron Beacon Journal, 16-year-old Zach Naugle of Covington Kentucky said, “It’s not going to make me quit because I’ve got a job and I’m making money to buy cigarettes not matter what they cost.”
A solution to this gigantic problem would be for Ohio to set up a state law that would penalize minors for possession and use of tobacco. Currently, state law prohibits teens from purchasing cigarettes, but there is now law prohibiting them from using them. Seems backward, doesn’t it? Punishment for teens caught smoking would be a fine of up to $250, attendance at a day long tobacco-awareness class and 4 hours of community service. Those who skip class, community service, or fail to come to court, would lose their license for up to 180 days and have a warrant issued for their arrest once they turn 18. For teens who do not yet have a license, they will have to wait 6 month after they apply for a license to get one. Stiffer penalties would be given for repeat offenses.
But, will it work? This type of law, one that makes it illegal for teens to smoke, has been used in states such as Washington, Texas, and Illinois. Their laws are constructed similarly to this proposal, including prohibition and punishment. So far, in Texas, 164 teenagers has their driver’s license suspended for tobacco-related offenses, according to the Texas Department of Public Safety. Also, 3,000 youths have taken the tobacco-awareness course since the anti- smoking law took effect. In, Morrison County, Illinois, police chief, Bob Snodgrass said that “underage smoking, once prevalent on the streets, has become rare since their law went into effect.” In Vancouver, Washington, most adult and teens, despite whether they smoked, believe the law is a good thing, according to interviews conducted by their local news, KOIN. Nineteen-year-old, Tony Smith was safe from the new law, but said he never would have started smoking if the law was around a few years ago.
This proposal to make teen smoking illegal will work because teens would fear the punishment. Teenagers don’t like community service, or the idea of spending their entire Saturday at an anti-smoking class. Tony Smith said, “Oh no, I wouldn’t smoke because I wouldn’t want to pay that 50 bucks and do to classes!” A fine of $50 to $250 is serious money for most teenagers. Even if a teen holds down a part time job, he or she makes near minimum-wage. A fine of that size could mean one or two paychecks. It is enough that a teen that wants to smoke has to pay outrageous prices for cigarettes, but there would also be the fear of having to pay a huge fine. Why would any teen want to start?
Enforcement of this policy would certainly lower the percentages of teens that smoke. It would be enforced the same way underage drinking is. If a police officer sees a young person drinking, he or she would ask for I.D. and then follow procedure from there. The only difference in this would be that police officers would also have to watch out for underage smokers, not just drinkers. One idea, to ensure that the law is enforced would be that for each time a police officer cites a teen for smoking, a percentage of the fine that the teen would pay, would go to the officer. This would be an added incentive for police to keep their eye out.
The advantages of this policy would be it’s simplicity. The teenagers are punished for smoking illegally. Police officers would want to keep an eye out because of the simplicity and the incentive. There wouldn’t be much extra work. When Illinois introduced it’s law, lawmakers it said that the penalties against minors would work in conjunction with existing laws against merchants as an overall attack on underage smoking. If Ohio were to do the same thing, teenage smoking could really be cut down. Maybe other states would follow our example.
The benefits of this policy would be tremendous to our country and our population. If fewer teens start smoking, years from now there will be fewer adult smokers, which means fewer smoking-related deaths. Health care costs could be cut dramatically. The government would have to spend less money on anti-smoking campaigns that don’t work and treatments for ex-smokers. And the government would make money from the fines collected.
Who knows, maybe eventually smoking could eventually become extinct. Yes, I may be dreaming, but if you must know, I am Stephanie. And I know that as a smoker of seven years, I wish there had been laws years ago preventing me from starting. I know that if it was illegal, I never would have done it and became as addicted as I am today. A law in Ohio that prohibits teens from smoking could prevent teens from starting, and prevent their regrets years later.