Destiny Davis gave up Barbie dolls for cigarettes.
She was just 10 when she started smoking, a ponytailed fifth-grader at Mesa’s Roosevelt School, going through a pack of Newports a day. She’s 14 now.
She smoked after school at a friend’s house, bumming cigarettes from older kids. At home, she’d hide cigarettes in her socks and duck into the back yard for a smoke.
“It was just, well, everybody was doing it,” she said.
Not quite everybody, but the numbers are creeping up, alarming Arizona state Department of Health Services officials who have launched a $13 million anti-smoking campaign aimed at kids.
Kids laugh at the ads that the campaign generates.
Twenty-eight percent of high-school students smoke, according to a 1995 study by the Arizona Criminal Justice Commission, up from 24.6 percent in 1991.
That’s more than one of every four kids and more than the percentage of Arizona adults who smoke.
But younger kids are smoking less, according to the same study: 13.9 percent of third-through- sixth-graders as compared with 16.4 percent in 1991.
Still, that’s one out of every seven third- to sixth-graders lighting up.
And an estimated 3,000 kids nationwide start smoking every day, according to DHS, seemingly ignoring the preachings about cancer and death.
A junior-high baby-sitter handed Jennifer Moon her first cigarette. She was 6.
“I’d seen my Mom do it, but I didn’t really know what it was,” said Moon, now 18 and a senior at Dobson High in Mesa.
She hacked on that first puff and didn’t touch another until she was a high-school sophomore. Now, she smokes half a pack of Marlboro Lights a day.
Interviews with Moon and other teenage smokers reveal they smoke for the same reason adults do: They enjoy it.
They smoke between classes and after lunch, much like their adult counterparts who huddle outside office buildings for smoke breaks.
They smoke at parties and when they gather with friends at fast-food restaurants.
It’s not a matter of being rebellious. Most of their parents know, teen smokers said.
“They smoke, so they feel it’s hypocritical to say anything,” said Lisa Waldron, 17, a senior at Dobson who started smoking five years ago.