In asking for an ordinance that would ban smoking in public places by those under 18, the Sharon Police Department is taking an action the Pennsylvania legislature should have taken years ago: made it illegal for youth to smoke. With 3,000 young Americans getting hooked on tobacco every day -- of whom the majority will die premature deaths -- any measure that limits tobacco use by children deserves support.
In Ohio, a new law was passed that prohibits children under 18 from buying, possessing or using tobacco in any form. It answered the concern that Ohio law prohibited sales of tobacco products to those under 18, but did not forbid its use. The new law provides for $100 fines, community service hours and drivers license suspensions.
Obviously, a municipal ordinance can't go that far, Sharon police Capt. Michael Menster said that the proposed ordinance would likely carry a citation, a fine and notification of the offender's parents.
It is estimated that some 350,000 Pennsylvania teens already smoke. While most of them are already in the throes of addiction, youngsters who are non-smokers could well be dissuaded from joining the others if they knew of the various sanctions against them.
Researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, and the Graduate School of Education, University of Pennsylvania, have found that secondhand smoke increases the risk of death, and concern with "secondhand smoke is a powerful deterrent against smoking and a powerful motivator for smoking cessation." Thus, educating teens about the risks of lung cancer, heart disease, sudden infant death syndrome and a variety of other diseases in nonsmokers who are exposed to secondhand smoke can help young people quit smoking -- or better yet, avoid it altogether.
The Sharon ordinance was prompted by residents who see groups of 30 or 40 kids congregating in alleys or on their property near the Sharon Middle/High School to smoke before or after school.
While the ordinance is a good start, alone it can't solve the problem of teen smoking. When adults smoke, they provide the role models their children emulate. That's why some states have banned smoking in all restaurants, bars and other public places to discourage anyone from smoking.
Tobacco products are fiercely addictive. Getting this message out to young people is critical. Once they start smoking, quitting is exceptionally difficult. Keeping tobacco out of the hands of children is critically important, and a municipal ordinance tells children that such behavior is unacceptable.