Teen-agers struggle to beat cigarette addiction

April 24, 1994|By Alisa Samuels | Alisa Samuels,Sun Staff Writer

Since a month before she turned 16, Anne Dawson hasn't been able to resist the Marlboro Man. She's been smoking a $2.20 pack of Marlboro cigarettes each day for more than two years.

"I think it started as a social thing . . . in my sophomore year," said Anne, now 18. "Now, it's not a social thing. It's an addiction."

Wanting to quit, the senior at Glenelg Country School got a nicotine patch two months ago. It didn't help.

"I smoked on top of the patch, and that's not good," said Anne, an asthmatic, adding that her asthma and smoking "affect my stamina on the [tennis] court."

She hasn't surrendered to cigarettes, however.

About three weeks ago, she signed up for an after-school Smoke-free Teens class at her school, taught by Jonathan A. Hobbs, a county health department addictions services prevention worker. The free, five-week class is held 3:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. Mondays and Thursdays in a classroom at the school.

The American Cancer Society developed the class, which teaches teen-agers who want to stop smoking how to kick the habit and provides them with a support group.

"I say, 'If you want to quit, I'll help you,' " Mr. Hobbs said. "I don't preach to them. I inform them, so they can make decisions on their own."

Originally, Mr. Hobbs wanted to take the program into county public schools, but was not able to arrange it in the current school year. He wants to teach the class in county public schools this fall.

'Serious problem'

On Valentine's Day, he promoted the idea on Cable 15, the county's cable television station, and Anne's mother, Frances Dawson, called to ask if he'd come to her daughter's school. He did.

According to the 1992 Maryland Adolescent Survey, conducted by the state, 44 percent of Howard County youngsters 16 and under reported having smoked cigarettes. And 10 percent of youngsters age 10 and under reported having used cigarettes.

"It's a serious problem," Mr. Hobbs said. "About one-third of the kids here [in the county] have smoked or smoke."

The report also found that tobacco, like alcohol, is easily accessible to minors, though it is illegal to sell tobacco products to youngsters.

Anne, who estimates that she's spent $2,000 on cigarettes, can vouch for their availability. She said she used to purchase cigarettes from vending machines or get friends to buy them.

Teen use increasing

A recent national study found that while cigarette use has declined among adults, it has increased among teen-agers after a 15-year decline.

Each day more than 3,000 young people begin to smoke, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. And youngsters who smoke are also more likely to use alcohol and illegal drugs.

County Councilman Darrel Drown, a 2nd District Republican, reintroduced a resolution this month that encourages businesses remove cigarette vending machines that are easily accessible to minors.

In Mr. Hobbs' anti-smoking class, his six students, ages 15 to 18, tell him when and why they smoke.

"They smoke before school, after school and in their cars because they can't smoke at home," he said.

Videotape on dangers

Some cite stress as the reason. And many are influenced by the media and celebrities. "Bono on the Grammys had a cigarette in his mouth," said Mr. Hobbs, referring to the lead singer of the rock group U2.

To help the students realize the dangers of smoking, Mr. Hobbs shows a 20-minute videotape about a Gaithersburg ninth-grade teacher and assistant football coach who died from lung cancer at age 47. He also notes that his own father died of W smoking-related lung cancer when Mr. Hobbs was 15.

Mr. Hobbs, a nonsmoker, tells the students about the chemicals in cigarettes and cigarette smoke, including tars, radioactive gas and methanol.

He also notes that there are more than 400,000 deaths each year from tobacco-related causes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The message appears to be getting through to some students in the group.

"I'm quite aware of it [the dangers]," Anne said. Still, she adds, "it's hard to think rationally when you have an addiction. It's hard to explain."

She said that last Monday was "quit day" for the class and that she managed not to smoke all day. She smoked later that night.

"It's the longest I've gone without," Anne said. "I felt good about that."

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