Adolescents who are smoking should at least be aware that they're playing with fire, says the sponsor of legislation that would make it tougher for teens to get cigarettes and increase the penalties for young smokers and for those who provide them with cigarettes.
Rep. Hugh D. Rush, R-Salt Lake, told the Education Committee of the Women's Legislative Council Thursday that his bill faces an uphill battle and that enforcement will be a problem if it does pass."But we need to send kids a strong message and make it more difficult for them to obtain tobacco products," said Rush.
Ivan Cendese, principal of Highland High School, said that while he strongly supports the concept, he believes legislators will be adding to the difficulty faced by schools. Administrators can't enforce current laws about smoking, let alone tougher ones, he said.
Cendese said he would support the measure if it included a provision that money raised from fines would be earmarked for programs to educate young smokers about the dangers they face. Federally financed programs for adolescent drug or alcohol abusers have been very successful in deterring young people from using hazardous chemicals, he said.
Rush was receptive to that suggestion. He said, however, that opposition to the bill and a companion piece of legislation that would make it illegal to provide free samples of tobacco products to minors is intense. The tobacco industry has sent lobbyists to Utah to fight the bills.
Several states have tried unsuccessfully to raise the legal smoking age and tighten laws regarding tobacco sales, he said. In Utah, vendors are strongly resisting laws that would require them to more closely police purchases from their vending machines, as Rush's measure would do.
California has successfully forced vendors to be more responsible, Rush said.
He said the effort to deter young people from smoking is not a moral or religious issue. The health problems are real and too few adolescents understand them. His legislation would at least help delay the smoking decision until they are more mature, he said.