Teens today know cigarettes can cause lives to go up in smoke

September 10, 2002|by Jessica Hanlin

Every school has the notorious 'smoker's bathroom' - the bathroom that people duck into during lunch and between classes to get a quick smoke. Pass by, and the billowing smoke can often be seen into the hallway. It seems everyone's smoking.

In 1998, 46 states were paid a $246 billion settlement by tobacco companies. States' attorneys general said smokers were getting sick from smoking cigarettes, that tobacco companies knew cigarettes contained addictive and harmful substances, and the states were having to pick up the health care tab.

So this money was to go for health care and, mainly, smoking prevention.

Yeah right. Are you smoking something?

Texas spent less than 1 percent of its $1.5 billion settlement on prevention. Other states have followed suit.

But don't forget about all those "the truth" commercials. The TV ads filled with crying, abandoned babies, or the one where guys try to send cigarettes through the mail? Those commercials are funded by money from the tobacco settlements. Check it out at


HERE. Remember seeing those billboards around town that simply said, in huge, bold letters, "HERE"? Well, as most people have realized, they were replaced several weeks ago by "Smoking stops here" signs. This new anti-smoking campaign also has been funded by tobacco settlements.

But everyone's doing it, so why shouldn't I smoke?

"'Cause it's bad," says one South High junior.

Simply put. But just how bad is it?

I won't preach to you the same facts that we've all been hearing since elementary school. Of course cigarette smoking has been proven to cause cancers of all sorts: lungs, mouth, nose, esophagus. Look at any Surgeon General's warnings. You've heard people refer to "smoker's hack." We won't even discuss the yellow teeth and fingers.

"Smoking decreases lung capacity," says Dr. Ruth Dwyer. "And smoking pot does give you really bad breath."

In case those life-threatening factors don't concern you gentlemen, consider this: smoking cuts off blood flow to extremities. Talk about life-threatening.

No matter what the side effects of smoking are, there still seems to be a large number of teens who do smoke. Many teens who smoke are not regular smokers, and even those who are won't admit it.

Sure there are kids who still stand, just off the edge of school property, smoking for all the world to see. But maybe they want the world to see them.

"I don't really know anyone who seriously smokes. They just smoke at parties and stuff like that," says one 16-year-old North High student.

"I was a closet smoker until freshman year," says one 17-year-old regular smoker, who had started in 7th grade. "I used to play sports, but I can't anymore because of smoking," she says. "But I've cut down to two cigarettes a day because I'm trying to quit. I'm already feeling better."

"As much as you don't want to, talk to a doctor about quitting," says Dr. Dwyer. "There are ways of making it much easier."

Another factoid to ponder. Did you know that supporting a pack-a-day habit could cost you $1,575 a year? Think of what you could buy with that kind of extra cash. That price is almost sure to rise, as taxes on cigarettes continue to climb.

Just thought you might like the heads up.

There are many ways to convince people to do things. Those who took D.A.R.E. with me in middle school can probably recite these methods as well. Sex appeal, media and peer pressure are just a few. And, of course, you cannot forget the bandwagon.

However, this time, it seems as if everyone's jumping on the bandwagon in the other direction - resisting cigarettes. It's your choice, not just because the billboards tell you to stop. But it's not just your health you're dealing with here. Remember your manhood.

Jessica Hanlin is a junior at North Hagerstown High School. She can be reached by e-mail:

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