Cities and Towns Enact Laws to Snuff out Teen Smoking Local Measures Spread across US as Tobacco Use Rises among Minors

Article excerpt

SCHOOL is out and, as students tumble from St. Lawrence High School here into a numbing snowstorm, the heat is on.

Gangs of students congregate, taking note of several police cruisers nearby. Suddenly, from an unmarked patrol car, Officer Edward Clancy swoops upon the scene and plucks a smoldering cigarette butt from the snow at the feet of a ninth grader. One more under-age youth is nabbed in the no-smoke dragnet in Burbank, Ill.

Burbank is one of scores of communities across the country to crack down on teenage smoking.

For decades, local governments relied solely on state laws to curb tobacco use among minors, but now they are formulating their own ordinances - and sometimes using local police to enforce them. The trend is the latest in a broad antismoking campaign to sweep the United States, which has included bans or restrictions on smoking in restaurants, work places, and other public buildings.

In the Chicago area, 22 suburbs have enacted laws to prevent retailers from selling tobacco products to minors or to bar outright the possession of cigarettes by people under age 18. Three more towns are considering a crackdown.

"These kinds of laws are popping up in cities and towns all over the country," says Elizabeth Bridgers, spokeswoman for the American Cancer Society. The tobacco industry, even with its substantial war chest and political leverage, would find it hard to quash an opposition involving thousands of cities and towns, she says.

Instead, the tobacco industry is combatting such grass-roots efforts at the state level. It has allied with retailers and, in 19 states, has successfully promoted laws that bar localities from enacting anti-tobacco measures that vary from state law.

State legislation is awaiting gubernatorial signatures in Indiana and Utah and is gaining support of lawmakers in 12 other states, says Peter Fisher of the Coalition on Smoking or Health in Washington, an antismoking group. The revised laws modify restrictions on retailing, usually to the advantage of cigarette makers, he says.

The tobacco industry says it opposes smoking by minors and denies assertions it targets much of its $6 billion annual advertising and promotion budget toward teenagers. The industry has pushed for state laws preempting local antismoking ordinances in an effort to prevent the emergence of conflicting regulations from one town to another. Such a patchwork of local laws would badly hinder the lawful sale of tobacco, says Walker Merryman, vice president of the Tobacco Institute in Washington.

Local governments have cracked down primarily because of a recent surge in cigarette use among minors, say industry opponents. …