Jessica Moon will sign a pledge today to stop a habit she's had since seventh grade: smoking cigarettes.
"I want to try to run track, but I can't because with the smoking I don't have enough breath," said the 15-year-old freshman at Owings Mills High School. "It's going to be hard, but I'm going to quit."
Jessica and 94 other Owings Mills High students will sign their pledges during their lunch periods today on "Kick Butts Day 1999," a national event to discourage students from smoking.
Their names were unveiled yesterday on three black banners hanging in the school's auditorium during a ceremony to launch Maryland's weeklong Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids.
"They have promised to stop, but what is making them stop is everyone sitting here," health teacher Cindy Wasserman told the school's students. "They will succeed only if everyone here helps them."
Joining the ceremony were state and county officials, including Maryland Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr., county schools Superintendent Anthony G. Marchione, Miss Maryland Heather Davis and Dr. Martin P. Wasserman, secretary of the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.
About 40 percent of high school seniors smoke at least occasionally, according to county health officials.
Anti-smoking events will take place in schools across Maryland this week. Today, hundreds of middle school pupils will gather at the Maritime Institute for training on how to help others avoid tobacco as part of the state's Students Against Starting Smoking program.
With 80 percent of adult smokers reporting that they began smoking by age 18, the officials at yesterday's event told the students that it's critical for them to avoid cigarettes and to help their smoking friends break the habit.
"For those of you who haven't started smoking by the time you leave Owings Mills High School, the chances are very, very good that you will never smoke," said Wasserman, who will leave his Cabinet position at the end of the month to head a new public health effort against smoking.
During the next week, the 95 students giving up smoking at Owings Mills will get support from more than 350 nonsmoking students who have promised to help.
Smokers and their nonsmoking partners will wear "Break the Chain" bracelets, and the Owings Mills PTSA will have candy, vegetables and baked goods in the building all week to provide relief to the smokers.
Not every smoker at Owings Mills has signed up to quit, and about a third of the 95 students who will sign the pledges today will remain anonymous to everyone but their nonsmoking partners.
For public inspiration, the smoking students will be looking to two Owings Mills teachers who signed the giant pledges on the stage at the end of yesterday's ceremony -- music teacher Joel Galloway and English teacher Kathy Woodard. One other teacher also has anonymously agreed to quit.
"I've been smoking for 10 years, since I was the age of my students," said Galloway, 26. "I hope I can set an example for them. If I can do it, so can they."