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Sunday, July 12, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Group Would Make Teen Smoking Illegal But Young People Warn Advocates That Crackdown On Tobacco Possession Couldn’t Be Enforced

Teen smokers face more barriers all the time. Most recently, Washington students were banned from smoking at alternative schools.

Now, a group of Spokane residents wants to take the crackdown a step further and make it illegal for kids to even possess tobacco.

“Our best chance of stopping people from smoking is with kids,” Rep. Mark Sterk, R-Spokane, said Thursday at a brainstorming forum at the Spokane Convention Center.

“Maybe I can make a difference with kids and raise a generation of people who don’t ultimately smoke,” he said.

Health workers, educators, students, politicians and state Attorney General Christine Gregoire attended the forum sponsored by Tobacco Free Washington Spokane Coalition. The group will meet again in December.

On Thursday, they talked about how to keep students who are addicted to cigarettes from dropping out of smoke-free schools. They talked about programs to help kids break the habit.

But the discussion kept circling back to creating an ordinance to keep kids under age 18 from having tobacco at all.

“That’s what we’re hoping will come out of this group,” said Marni Henderson, president of Tobacco Free Washington.

But already, they’re getting warnings that it’s not going to work.

“Kids are going to rebel against that. They’re going to rebel hard against that,” said 15-year-old Mindy Tussey, who attends a Mead alternative school.

Quitting isn’t easy for kids like her, said Tussey, who started smoking behind a neighbor’s house when she was 5 years old. Singling out kids isn’t fair, either, she said.

“If you’re going to stop this you should make it illegal not just for kids, but for adults, too,” she said.

Another student, who moved to Spokane from California, said a similar law there didn’t slow him down.

“I got ticketed four times,” he said. “It just made me madder and I wanted to smoke more.”

Denise Fitch, a former health teacher who works for the state education superintendent, said such an ordinance can’t succeed unless strong plans are in place for enforcing it.

“Don’t create laws that become a joke to young people,” she said. “Make them enforceable and something that has a little teeth.”

Catching kids chewing tobacco, for instance, would be especially tricky, Fitch said.

“Doggone it, kids are sneaky. You tell them, ‘No, you can’t smoke,’ so they chew,” she said. “And it’s a tough one to catch. They swallow.”

Patrol officers just don’t have time to make tobacco laws a priority, Sterk said. He suggested giving volunteers at the neighborhood cop shops authority to issue citations.

Nancy McKindsey, a state health worker, suggested deputizing educators to cite student smokers.

“If they’re not held accountable, they get the message that says some laws aren’t important.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo

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