Regardless whether the national tobacco settlement goes up in smoke, so to speak, Utah wisely is taking measures to protect its youth against the insidious habit.
Utah has joined a growing cadre of states in partnership with the federal government to stamp out teen smoking. In addition, a Utah judge is spearheading a program with the schools to form the nation's first Tobacco Court, a pilot program geared specifically to address the increasing number of teenagers who already smoke.Last week the state and the Food and Drug Administration, as the first step of a national plan to reduce the number of teens who use tobacco products, launched a multimedia advertising campaign against the sale of tobacco to minors.
It will run for four weeks. But that's just a part of the plan. This is a campaign with clout. Utah received more than $300,000 from the FDA to make sure that retailers are aware of and comply with new regulations associated with selling tobacco to minors.
The FDA has already announced it will be conducting an undercover operation to ensure compliance. Minors, accompanied by a trained adult, will attempt to buy tobacco. Each retailer can expect to be visited at least once during the year. Those who are found selling tobacco to minors will be reported to the FDA and issued a warning for the first violation. Those who fail the first inspection can expect to be visited again. Repeat offenders will be fined anywhere from $250 for the second violation to $10,000 for a fifth violation.
This is where to put the emphasis - on the underage smokers. If they don't start young they have a much better chance of not becoming addicted to the filthy habit. Current statistics indicate 3,000 minors become regular smokers each day and that 1,000 of them can expect to die prematurely from tobacco-related illness.
Supplementing the FDA's effort is 3rd District Juvenile Court Judge Joseph Anderson's brainchild, the Tobacco Court, which was born out of desperation and a sense of frustration at a failing system. Anderson kept seeing the same kids come before his court with tobacco charges but there were no programs for intervention such as those for kids with drug problems.
The success of the Tobacco Court will largely depend on participating schools. Three school districts - Murray, Jordan and North Summit - are involved in the pilot program.
The schools, which generally issue the majority of smoking citations, will be assisted by law enforcement officers. The program works like this: A copy of the citation is sent to the Tobacco Court's coordinator, who schedules a time for the teen and his or her parent or guardian to appear. The youth has a choice of either paying a fine or attending a smoking cessation program. The amount of the fine increases with repeat violations as does the intensity of the cessation program. In addition, if the youth fails to comply with the Court, judges can revoke the teen's driving privileges for up to six months per citation. Pro-tem judges will run the Court.
It obviously will be awhile before either the Utah-FDA or Tobacco Court programs can be properly evaluated. Both, however, can be applauded now for their visionary approach to a very serious problem.