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Youth Join Fight For, Against Smoking

by Martha Irvine Wednesday, Jun. 04, 2003 at 12:42 PM

A self-described libertarian, Hannula fought a now-defunct anti-smoking program for Minnesota youth called Target Market because he disapproved that public money was used to influence the choices teens make about smoking.

Youth Join Fight For, Against Smoking

Martha Irvine, Associated Press, June 3, 2003

CHICAGO - You could say 14-year-old Kyle Damitz helped pioneer a movement that has snuffed out smoking in many restaurants and bars nationwide. More than eight years ago, he and his brother talked the owners of their local bowling alley into a ban on cigarettes and cigars during youth leagues - a minor coup in smoker-friendly Chicago.

Now the eighth-grader is helping push proposals that would make it illegal to smoke in many public places in his city and neighboring Skokie, Ill. He's among the young people nationwide getting involved in the tobacco debate - an issue that resonates strongly with them since many take up smoking during their teen years, while others make a conscious decision not to. "If I'm around it, I start wheezing and sometimes I just can't breathe," says Damitz, who is severely asthmatic.

Erik Horne also is involved, though he's on the other side of the issue. The 21-year-old smoker has been campaigning for sheltered smoking areas at Western Washington University, where school officials recently banned him and others from lighting up in or directly outside their dorms. Now, he says, he must walk the length of two football fields, often in the rain, to smoke. "It's harassment," says Horne, who's circulated petitions and built a Web site dedicated to his cause.

As more campuses, cities and states impose anti-smoking measures, the debate is only likely to heighten. California, New York and Connecticut are among the states that have banned smoking in restaurants and, in some cases, bars. And hundreds of cities - from Boston to Dallas - have done the same.

Ashley Sobrinski, a 16-year-old from Seaville, N.J., helped get smoking banned on much of the boardwalk in nearby Ocean City, after discarded cigarette butts started several fires there. Since then, the high school sophomore - who lost a grandfather to lung cancer - has testified in favor of a statewide ban in New Jersey restaurants. "Really, people underestimate the power of kids all the time," she says of her anti-smoking work. "And I think we make a big difference."

Some colleges - including the University of California, Davis - have gone as far as to ban the sale of tobacco on campus. The decision has drawn some complaints, including editorials in the UC Davis student newspaper. "The argument is something you'd expect from students - that you're taking away their rights," says Allison Bordsen, a senior who is now working to get ashtrays moved farther away from entrances to campus buildings. "But smoking is not a right; it's a privilege," Bordsen says. "And we have a right to breathe."

Matt Hannula, a 16-year-old from Duluth, Minn., disagrees and says smoking should be a choice for anyone 18 or older. A self-described libertarian, Hannula fought a now-defunct anti-smoking program for Minnesota youth called Target Market. He says he disliked that public money was being used to influence the choices people his age make about smoking.

"I don't smoke. The only thing that made me want to was Target Market. I just wanted to go up to their building and smoke in front of it," says Hannula, who built his own Web site aimed at counteracting Target Market, which was scrapped recently due to a state budget crunch.

Some officials credit Target Market with helping reduce high school smoking rates in Minnesota by 11 percent since the program began in 2000. Nationally, high school smoking rates dropped from 36.4 percent in 1997 to 28.5 percent in 2001, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control.

Still, Kristen Williamson, a 14-year-old anti-smoking activist from Harvey, Mich., says it's been difficult to persuade her peers to shun cigarettes. "If you're with a group of friends and you say 'no' they think you're weird or something," she says, noting that smoking is a fairly ingrained part of life in Michigan's Upper Peninsula.

Organized by their county health department, she and other teens have been placing warnings about second-hand smoke on tables at local restaurants. Rory Carlin, an 18-year-old from Montgomery County, Pa., is doing similar work, including distributing "tip cards" asking restaurants to go smoke-free.

Such intrusions bother smokers like Horne, the Western Washington student, who already feels inundated with anti-tobacco messages."We know smoking is unhealthy," he says. "We get taught that by schools, our parents, children's TV shows, the surgeon general. They even banned tobacco ads from TV. But that's not enough for these activists."

He expects tensions to rise.

"The next civil war won't be North or South," he says. "It will be smoking or nonsmoking."


Hornes's site:

Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids:

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