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Fines Curb Teenage Smoking


The children responded quickly after the village board, including its lone smoker, voted to levy $25 fines on minors caught with a cigarette.  In the tiny park across from the brick village hall, youngsters gathered to light up and puff defiantly away.  But the protests were carefully timed. They occurred when the town squad car was gone from its parking place, the single on-duty officer obviously out on rounds.  For the most part, nicotine is now a furtive pleasure for the youths of Pleasant Plains. They have grown adept at sleight-of-hand, dipping into separate pockets for cigarettes and lighters, cradling burning sticks inside cupped palms, directing tendrils of blue smoke toward the ground. They walk far into fields of cornstalks that rise taller than their heads, the better to conceal their tobacco habits.

Fighting Teen Smoking

For Police Chief Michael Forsythe, who requested the ordinance, that is victory enough. "You don’t see 12- and 13-year-olds walking down the street with their cigarettes anymore," he said.  This town, situated between the Illinois River and the state capital of Springfield, is among the most recent converts to a fast-growing movement in the fight to reduce teen tobacco use. From California to Florida, local legislators are trying something new: If the kids smoke, punish them.  Nationally, studies show 25% of high school-age children smoke–compared to 21% of adults.  Concern rises ever higher, with cigarette companies pressured to change youth-oriented ads and President Clinton urging price hikes to push the product out of teen-allowance range. It long has been illegal for anyone under 18 to purchase cigarettes, but generally the sellers were the ones prosecuted, and they are rarely caught.

Teen Smoking Is A Huge Problem

Now, across large slices of America, mere possession–far easier to prove–can land a kid in trouble with the law.  The concept draws strong disapproval from many quarters. Some anti-tobacco activists chorus that the measures "blame the victim" rather than manufacturers and vendors. Some parents argue that if they let their children smoke, the police have no business interfering. Some teens contend that tickets won’t deter them and that the grown-ups are hypocrites. And in Medina County in northeast Ohio, juvenile court judges complained that smoking tickets clogged the courts. Nonetheless, the juggernaut rolls on, with some other laws making Pleasant Plains seem downright lenient.

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