Teen-age smoking continues to increase despite prevention programs, so the county health department is trying something new.
The department is distributing "Quit Kits" through schools, youth groups and at tables at local malls. It also is sending education materials to local merchants that include posters and stickers saying that the store won't sell to minors, information on identifying minors and a list of state tobacco laws.
Ending teen-age smoking "has been a community-wide concern where even retailers are hungry for information," Frances B. Phillips, county health officer, said yesterday as she introduced the initiatives, part of the county's "Learn to Live" program.
Maryland has the third-highest rate of cancer deaths in the nation, according to the American Cancer Society. And 47.9 percent of Anne Arundel's high school seniors smoke, according to a 1992 health department study. The figure is higher than the state figure of 41 percent and almost twice the national figure of 28.3 percent.
County health officials hope reducing teen smoking will reduce the local cancer rate in the next decade.
Teen-agers smoke because tobacco advertising is aimed at them, said Jim Bergman, executive director of Stop Teen-age Addiction to Tobacco, in Springfield, Mass.
"Virginia Slims promises that if you smoke, you'll be slim, gorgeous and independent," he said. "If there's a villain, it's the Tobacco Institute and retailers, not the youth who purchase tobacco products."
But members of the Tobacco Institute think differently.
"We support efforts to keep cigarettes out of the hands of kids," said Tom Lauria, a spokesman for the Tobacco Institute in Washington.
Mr. Bergman said Anne Arundel's program makes cigarettes less attractive.
The "Quit Kit," created by teen-agers, features a book filled with tips on how to stop smoking, cartoon characters and a skunk with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth bearing the logo "Smoking Stinks." Teen-agers' reasons for not smoking are more immediate than adults, said Katherine Farrell, deputy health officer: They worry about smelly breath, yellow teeth and being attractive to the opposite sex.