To Some Teens, Ban Is A Drag

October 21, 1994|By Alisa Samuels | Alisa Samuels,Sun Staff Writer

Seventeen-year-old Gene Miille of Glen Burnie and "Joe Camel" are intimate.

Each day, the teen-ager sticks a Camel Lite cigarette between his lips, inhales and then exhales puffs of smoke. Gene, who started smoking at age 15, continues until he smokes up to a pack and a half of cigarettes each day.

"I'm kind of addicted to them, and I go out and buy them," Gene said as he dragged on a cigarette outside the Marley Station Mall in Glen Burnie last week.

Gene said he'll continue smoking despite a new state law that prohibits those under age 18 from using or possessing tobacco products. The law, which took effect Oct. 1, stipulates maximum fTC fines of $25 for the first offense and up to $100 for subsequent offenses. Alarmed by Maryland's high cancer rate, Gov. William Donald Schaefer's administration drafted the law to discourage youngsters from smoking.

Maryland now is among 22 states that outlaw possession of tobacco products by those younger than 18, according to the industry-run Tobacco Institute in Washington, D.C. All 50 states forbid sales of tobacco products to minors.

Even before it took effect, the new law gained attention when 17-year-old Jason D'Anna was caught last month in his car with a lighted Marlboro in his mouth at the Dulaney High School parking lot in Baltimore County.

School officials threatened to have him arrested if he did not attend a smoking-cessation class or accept a one-day suspension, Jason's mother said.

He was suspended for one day after he signed up for the class and then didn't attend, said William Lawrence, an assistant superintendent in the Baltimore County school system.

Sitting at a designated smoking area outside Marley Station last week, Gene Miille called the new law "kind of ridiculous."

"I think they should lower the [smoking] age to 16 because we're going to do it anyway," he said.

The cigarette industry -- particularly makers of the Camel brand who long have used the "Joe Camel" character in ads -- has been accused of aiming its sales pitches directly at youths such as Gene.

In 1991, a Centers for Disease Control survey found that 50 percent of smokers reported they started smoking regularly before they turned 18, according to the American Cancer Society's Maryland division. Almost a half million Americans die each year from tobacco use.

The industry's Tobacco Institute says it supports laws barring minors from smoking, while the cancer society questions whether such laws are the right approach.

Eric Gally, communications director for the state cancer society, said his group agrees with the new law in principle but is wary of its consequences.

"We're worried that arresting children, writing tickets, will make them outlaws," he said. "We don't want to make outlaws out of children."

Gene's cousin, Mike Garbarino, 17, of Glen Burnie said he started smoking a year ago because of depression. He smokes a half-pack of Marlboro Lites daily.

"It's my decision to smoke," Mike said, cupping a cigarette in his right hand between drags. "I don't really care about that law."

But other teen-agers who don't smoke supported the law.

"I think it's a good idea," said Shiffonda Sutton, 15, a 10th-grader at Woodlawn Senior High School in Baltimore County, "because it [smoking] makes you ugly."

"It's disgusting," agreed Josh Bound, 16, a Wilde Lake High School senior in Columbia.

Even teen-agers aware of smoking's dangers find it hard to drop the habit.

Stephanie Kemplin, 17, of Columbia started smoking at age 11. "My Dad smoked . . . and I guess my lungs got used to it," she said last week outside The Mall at Columbia.

She has now cut her smoking from three packs a day to 1 1/2 packs. A year ago, she tried to quit altogether but found it impossible.

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