Taneytown is taking aim at its underage smokers Violators face a series of escalating penalties

January 15, 1998|By Donna R. Engle | Donna R. Engle,SUN STAFF

Taneytown officials are giving underage smokers five months to quit.

Come June 1, youngsters who light up in public in Taneytown will face Carroll County's toughest community action against underage smoking.

A 1994 law bars anyone younger than age 18 from possessing or using tobacco products.

Taneytown police Chief Melvin Diggs said officers will issue warnings starting March 1 and citations beginning June 1.

Taneytown's Tobacco Free Youth program, the first of its kind in the county, will provide a series of escalating penalties for violators. They range from smoking education classes for first-time offenders to community service and court appearances for underage smokers who receive additional citations.

The program is a joint effort of the Family and Community Council of Taneytown, Carroll County Health Department and Junction Inc., an addiction and counseling program. FACCT is an advisory group for Taneytown's crime prevention initiatives, financed by a $46,500 state grant awarded in 1997.

"The entire message is a milder form of zero tolerance," said Michelle Schaffer, crime prevention program community coordinator. "It's: 'These are the laws and we're going to respect them.' "

Diggs, a 43-year smoker who quit for eight months before resuming smoking three months ago, is inviting parents and students to join him Jan. 31 in a public tobacco burning.

Quitters can toss their cigarettes into a burning barrel from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. at Video 2001, Grand Drive and Baltimore Street.

"We'll all stop smoking together," he said.

Learning the law

Tobacco Free Youth program sponsors will distribute information about the state law in schools and in the Taneytown community newsletter in February.

Some observers say Taneytown doesn't have large numbers of youths hanging out on streets to smoke. The impetus for the crackdown was a community survey in 1995 in which residents identified marijuana, alcohol and tobacco as local drugs of choice.

Tobacco is considered a "gateway" drug, often leading to use of other drugs.

"We're not saying that all people who smoke are going to do drugs, but we do know that many people who do drugs started [by] smoking," said Joyce Tierney, Junction Inc. prevention coordinator.

A recent study by the Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University concluded that 12- to 17-year-olds who smoke cigarettes are 12 times more likely to use heroin, 51 times more likely to use cocaine and 23 times more likely to use marijuana than nonsmokers.

In January 1997, Schaffer and Barbara White, coordinator of the Health Department's tobacco control programs, surveyed Taneytown business owners about community concerns and found they were frustrated with tobacco law enforcement.

"Vendors said youths were hanging out right in front of the stores smoking and asking customers to buy for them and there wasn't much [the merchants] could do about it," White said.

Harford as a model

Carroll's program is modeled on one in Harford County, where the sheriff's office, state and local police have been issuing citations to underage smokers since May 1997.

The Harford County Health Department offers one to three smoking education classes a month, said Karie Simpkins, health educator. About 15 students attend each two-hour session.

"Some classes are extremely good, others have a lot of anger. [Participants] don't think they should be there. They think they should be allowed to smoke," Simpkins said.

She said a few teen-agers do quit smoking after receiving citations.

Taneytown parents will be encouraged to attend the free classes with their children, Tierney said. Classes will cover health issues, NTC quitting, how to deal with stress and tobacco's role as a "gateway drug."

Pub Date: 1/15/98

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