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SMOKING LAWS INTENDED TO PROTECT TEENS FROM ADDICTION

Question: I have smoked since I was 12 years old, and my parents have known about it for a long time. They don't really want me to smoke but consider it pretty much my choice. Now that I am 18 and can legally buy cigarettes, I can't smoke within 120 yards of school property. I don't get this law. Also, why are adults not ticketed when students are for breaking this same law?

- Robert, 18

Question: If parents consent, then why should the state of Texas care about teens smoking? They'll do it anyway, and it's not the state's job to raise children.

- From Zoe, 17

Answer: From Randy, Mary Frances, Jennifer and Mona, Longview High School, Longview, Texas: We all had different views on this issue, so we tried to make our response as objective as possible.

Our school used to have a smoking section behind one of the buildings, but now there are strict rules about students smoking on campus. I guess the administration turns its head whenever teachers sneak out back or to their car to have a quick smoke because no one on the faculty has gotten in trouble for smoking on campus.

This, we all feel, is not right. If you're going to allow some people to smoke on campus, everyone should be able to.

We have split views on whether or not the smoking rule should be lifted for high schools. While some students would take advantage of this ability to smoke, it may help instill a sense of responsibility and honesty in the students. We all believe that it is not the state's position to try to abolish teen smoking because many students DO have parental consent to smoke. The truth is, as Zoe said, teens will smoke regardless of certain rules that try and stop them.

What the school administrators are probably most worried about is that allowing students to smoke on campus may create more trouble rather than responsibility. Nonsmokers do have the right to study and learn in a clean environment, and along with smoking comes the responsibility to respect this right. A smoking campus could very well increase the number of teens who smoke regularly.

So, Robert and Zoe, we don't have a definite answer to your questions. We tried to step back and look at the issue from all sides, as you should do with every situation.

Answer: From Pat Schudy: Robert, the purposes of the law seem pretty obvious. Keep smoking as far away as possible from schools. Make smoking by teenagers harder to do. Discourage addiction.

To know whether the law is being applied fairly, you have to know exactly what it says. If the law prohibits smoking by students and/or people 18 and under, then adults would be exempt.

If ALL smoking is banned within 120 yards of the school, then everyone who breaks that law should be ticketed.

Your high school and the panelists' high school are not the only ones where the craving for cigarettes causes addicted teachers to "sneak out." Nicotine addiction is powerful. That doesn't justify what the teachers are doing. But it might help explain why there's such determination to keep teenagers from becoming addicted.

The Office of Smoking and Health reports that in a 1992 survey, 70 percent of teenagers who smoke said they would not start smoking if they could make that choice again. Other studies show if people don't start smoking as children or teenagers, it's unlikely they'll ever do so.

Zoe, your question is not a simple one. Some people feel the state should not have anything to say about how parents raise their children. However, generally speaking, the people have given government the right to enact laws that protect the welfare of children. That's why we have laws making it a crime for parents to abuse their kids and laws requiring that children be given a minimum education.

The state of Texas, other states and the federal government are enacting laws intended to protect children, teenagers and all others as much as possible from the ill effects of smoking and nicotine addiction. Indoor clean air acts, which restrict smoking in public and many private locations, are an example.