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Kids and Tobacco

| February 13, 2007 11:00 PM

I have to give 15-year-old Keith Johnston a lot of credit.

On Friday, while interviewing Keith and his peers from Troy Junior-High School about their involvement with a teen-led movement in Montana against the tobacco industry, he shared his reasons for discouraging kids from using tobacco.

Keith used to be a smoker and chewed tobacco. He began smoking at 13 and chewing at 14.

His addiction meant buying three packs of cigarettes a week and three cans of chewing tobacco every two days.

Keith would fund his habit with lunch money from his parents. He would give the money to an adult to buy the tobacco since it's illegal for anyone under 18 to purchase the stuff.

Then, like something you might see in any classic movie about prison life, Keith would exchange cigarettes for food during lunch in school.

When a girl caught his eye, and this girl voiced her opposition to his tobacco use, Keith quit. It took effort.

Ralph Stever, a prevention specialist for Flathead Valley Chemical Dependency Clinic in Lincoln County, claims teen cigarette smoking teaches kids to lie because it's forbidden.

Also, a kid who begins smoking before age 16 is five times more likely to become an addict, Stever said.

Smoking also leads to risky behavior.

A 2005 survey of Montana seventh- and eighth-graders showed that, along with other statistics listed in the story on today's front page:

* 53 percent of those who smoked had five or more drinks of alcohol in a row during the past 30 days compared to 6 percent among the non-smokers.

* 30 percent of those who smoked used chewing tobacco or snuff during the past 30 days compared to 3 percent among the non-smokers.

* 48 percent of those who smoked sniffed glue or used inhalants to get high during their life compared to 10 percent among the non-smokers.

* 74 percent of those who smoked had been in a least one fight during the past 12 months compared to 36 percent among the non-smokers.

The survey gives plenty of reason to be concerned if your kid is smoking.

The number of teen tobacco users is alarming. In one of Lincoln County's schools, 33 percent of the students said they chew tobacco and 28 percent say they smoke, Stever said.

Also in Lincoln County, 18 percent of eighth-graders smoke and 10 percent chew. Twenty-seven percent of those in 10th and 12th grades smoke, while 18 percent of 10-graders and 20 percent of 12th-graders chew.

With a $1,000 grant from reACT, the students from Troy hope to convince kids not to start smoking.

The students will use the money to make a 30-second commercial that will air on cable television 320 times. They will appear on a radio talk show in Libby and make six radio spots, and speak to fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders in Troy and Libby.

Parents also need to help. Statistics show that 3,000 people start smoking daily in the nation. Another 1,200 die a day - that's one every 72 seconds.

If you suspect your kid might smoking, talk to him. Better yet. Talk to your child when he is young. It's never too early to start. - Gwen Albers