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Great American Smokeout Day encourages only a few students

Sarah Gonser

Teens at South Tahoe High School have no illusions about smoking – they’re not stupid, they know it could kill them. However, what began as a lifestyle choice has now become an addiction.

To help students try to overcome their smoking habit, the El Dorado Public Health Department is organizing activities at the high school today in celebration for Great American Smokeout Day in the hopes that some kids will try to quit.

“I began smoking when I was 10 because this guy told me I’d look older and cooler if I did,” said Amy, 14. “Now I hate it and I want to quit. My parents would kill me if they knew I smoke.”



Although they admit having started for all the wrong reasons, students smoking in the “mini park” behind the high school say now they’re hooked. They long to quit but can’t.

“How can I quit if whenever I hang out with my friends, they’re all smoking, and I’m breathing and seeing it,” said one 17-year-old.



Responding to the rapid rise in teen smoking, El Dorado County probation officers stepped-up citations last year for students caught smoking.

“Youngsters might not get cited the first time, but they have to attend smoking cessation classes,” said Hearing Officer David Colon, of the El Dorado Probation Department. “When they do get cited, they have to go to a hearing and pay a fine between $30 to $50. If they don’t pay the fine, we place a hold on their driver’s license and they run into a brick wall if they try to renew it.”

According to the students, citing teens for smoking does not address the root of the problem, namely, that if teens want to smoke, they will smoke.

“We’re not allowed to do it over there,” said Katie Knapp, 16, pointing to a muddy field behind the high school. “So we just migrated over here, behind the fence. Smoking is an addiction, we’ll just go somewhere else to do it. If they really want us to stop, why don’t they give us a patch, or nicotine gum?”

Knapp’s point was echoed by other students who described smoking as a disgusting habit.

“I need to smoke,” said 15-year-old Chrissy Meeks. “But I hate the yellow teeth, and it makes my clothes stink. I can’t risk getting cited because I’m on probation. If I do get cited I go to jail for five months. But I’m still smoking.”

Several students mentioned that they began smoking because they saw their parents smoking.

“I’ve been smoking since I was 13,” said John Fimple, 16. “I started because my mom and everyone else did it and I thought it looked cool. Now I think it stinks.”

Nevertheless, according to campus security officer Pamela Guzzi, the number of smokers hanging out behind the school has nearly dropped by half since the citation enforcement last year.

“There used to be about 80 kids out here, now there’s only about half. They don’t want to risk getting a citation,” Guzzi said.

Citations are given by School Resource Officer Cameron Carmichael.

“I realize it’s hard for some of them to quit cold turkey so I warn them a few times before I cite them. They’re all really aware of the illegality of under-age smoking, which is a big step from where we were a few years ago,” Carmichael said. “However, I think there’s something really wrong somewhere along the line. I don’t know where, maybe in the home. But something is seriously failing in these kids’ education because they’re starting to smoke younger and younger.”

“If you can quit for a day, than maybe you’ll realize you can quit forever. That’s half the battle,” said health educator Betsy Tapper.

BREAK-OUT BOX: FACTS ABOUT SMOKING

— California has the second lowest proportion of adult smokers in the country, after Utah.

— Nevada has the fourth highest smoking rate in the country (about 30 percent) following the states in the East that produce tobacco.

— Since Virginia Slims were introduced in 1968, women began to smoke at higher rates.

— Prior to 1968, about 8 percent of teen girls smoked, compared to 15 percent of boys. By 1970, girls equaled boys at 15 percent.

Tahoe Daily Tribune E-mail: tribune@tahoe.com

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