Crackdown On Smoking New State Law Makes It Clear: Teen Possession Of Tobacco Is Illegal
Dawn Hannahs stood across the street from Shadle Park High School, smoking cigarettes with classmates during her lunch break Thursday.
“That law is quite stupid,” said Hannahs, 15, bemoaning a brand-new state law making it easier for police to crack down on teen smokers.
“They’re not going to be able to make us quit,” added Mike Rockford, a 16-year-old sophomore.
A day after Gov. Gary Locke signed the law, smoking corners were abuzz with details: Anyone under 18 caught with tobacco can face $50 fines, mandatory quit-smoking classes and community service.
The law, which will take effect June 12, makes it clear that for teens, possessing tobacco is just as illegal as buying it - a point that previously was open to question.
Police have settled mostly for scolding kids who have cigarettes or just ignoring them.
On Thursday, the Shadle Park kids seemed confident that police will continue to leave them alone.
As if on cue, a police cruiser appeared, and an angry officer leaned out the window. “Get out of there!” shouted officer Sue Mann. “That’s private property!”
The students kept puffing as they slowly left the yard where they’d been standing. They continued smoking as they approached Mann’s car to defend their habit.
Mann grimaced. Until the law becomes effective this summer, she said, she can do little to make them extinguish their cigarettes.
“It is real frustrating,” she said. “I think the law is great. We should do something to get these kids back under control.”
Sheriff’s deputies and police say they will cite smokers but won’t make it a high priority.
“Not that it’ll be ignored, but when you’ve got domestic violence, assault, burglaries,…it’s another tax on manpower and patrol and that becomes a problem,” said deputy Dave Reagan, a Spokane County sheriff’s spokesman.
“It’ll be kind of like speeding,” said sheriff’s inspector Mike Myhre. “You don’t arrest everyone who speeds.”
Spokane police Lt. Glenn Winkey called the law “a great tool” officers can use to disband smokers who cluster on private property.
“The new law definitely clarifies it for everybody: Possession is indeed covered by the law,” Winkey said. “Finally.”
School officials are meeting with police, anxious to find out how the law will affect them. State law already bans smoking on school campuses, but kids at most schools wander off campus to light up.
Teens caught with cigarettes at Mead High School won’t suddenly be turned over to police, Assistant Principal Ron Chadwick said. But repeat offenders may find themselves facing fines.
Pauline Zambryski, assistant principal at Shadle Park, said she’s glad the state finally has a teen smoking law with teeth.
“It’s going to cause a whole bunch of turmoil,” Zambryski said.
But for the smokers who gather daily near Shadle, that’s debatable.
“It’s not going to do anything,” said Tony Johnson, a 16-year-old freshman who believes teenagers will find ways around the law.
“They’re probably going to ditch school to smoke. If you see a cop coming, anyway, you could just drop it.”
But Lacey Bagley, 16, appeared to change her mind midsentence.
“Everybody in high school will just keep doing it … well, it might stop me. Fifty dollars, community service. It’s just not worth it.”
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