The Utah Department of Health wants to crush out smoking among adolescents and make it tougher for adults, too, to light up on school property.
If the department can persuade legislators this session to butt in on the issue and support several measures restricting smoking, teachers will be prohibited from smoking on school property during working hours, just as students always have been."The schools shouldn't be a place where we preach a double message," said Rep. Kim R. Burningham, R-Bountiful, co-sponsor of the "Adolescent Tobacco Prevention Act."
"There shouldn't be a smoking room for teachers who teach the harms of smoking."
It will also be tougher for teens to obtain tobacco products, if the bill, supported by the health department, passes.
The proposed bill, co-sponsored by Rep. Hugh D. Rush, D-Salt Lake, would require the minimum age of those purchasing tobacco products to be 21, instead of 19. Tobacco products would also be eliminated from vending machines - except those in private clubs or places where adult conventions are held.
The bill calls for stiffer penalties for merchants selling tobacco to minors. The penalty would be raised from a Class C to a Class A misdemeanor.
"These are very aggressive measures to try to reduce the use of tobacco among adolescents," said Dr. Suzanne Dandoy, executive director, Utah Department of Health. "They will be hard to get through the Legislature, but they are measures that we think are defensible and ones that would decrease the risk to health from tobacco products."
Some 320,000 deaths in the nation each year are directly attributed to smoking. Dandoy believes the habit is most commonly picked up during the teen years.
"If we can make it fairly difficult for teenagers to obtain tobacco products - both cigarettes and chewing tobacco - that would be a good measure to protect the health of teenagers."
Utah would be the first state in the nation to pass such an aggressive anti-smoking bill.
"Every state that has tried it has been beaten down by the tobacco industry," Rush said. "The National Tobacco Institute is concerned about it and is already mounting a heavy campaign to defeat the bill - even before it's in its final form."
Such formidable opposition isn't discouraging the lawmaker.
"I am optimistic it will get a fair hearing in the state of Utah because the purpose of the bill is to protect the health of adolescents," Rush said. The Rush/Burmingham bill is closely patterned after what U.S. Surgeon General Everett Koop is recommending on a national level.
"This bill is not intended to restrict the rights of smokers who are adults," Rush said. "It has no application to the system of higher education. It's geared only for places where young people are assembled in private or public elementary and secondary schools.
"Their battle, we believe, has got to be fought."
A battle plan against AIDS will also be formulated by legislators again this year. One AIDS-related bill has the support of the Utah Department of Health.
The bill, sponsored by Rep. Joseph Moody, R-Delta, is designed to strengthen the laws protectingthe confidential nature of public health records relating to communicable diseases, including AIDS.
It will be the third time a confidentiality bill has come before Utah lawmakers. The first bill was passed by the 1987 Legislature, but vetoed by the governor. A second was introduced, but not acted upon, during the special legislative session.
The new bill has been considered and recommended by the legislative health interim committee this year. Health officials are hopeful it will finally pass.
"While there are existing confidentiality statues, the AIDS epidemic has necessitated stronger protections of the records so that persons with AIDS need not be concerned that condition will become public information," Dandoy said. "This type of protection should enhance the health department's ability to learn about cases so that we can provide the necessary counseling and partner notification services.'
Two other AIDS bills - one requiring mandatory reporting of people who test positive for the Human Immune Deficiency Virus that causes AIDS and one that calls for mandatory testing of prison inmates - will be introduced by Sen. Winn L. Richards, D-Ogden.
The health department has not taken a position on these bills.