Students crusade against tobacco
RICHMOND - For Lucia Delgado, 16, stopping illegal tobacco sales to minors is a personal passion. Most of her friends smoke, and she has tried to persuade many to quit.
She took another tack Saturday, joining classmates from Middle College High School's "Empowerment Through Action" (ETA) program, which she serves as chairwoman, to visit tobacco sellers and make sure they are not inadvertently encouraging teens to light up.
Nearly 30 teens walked through Richmond to pass out information kits to merchants along 23rd Street and San Pablo Avenue and talked to them about state and local laws governing tobacco sales to minors.
"Most of my friends have actually tried to quit, but it's so addictive," Delgado said.
So effective is this group from Middle College that they are one of only 10 statewide to receive funding and to talk to other school groups about their advocacy techniques. The state attorney general's office sent a representative to videotape the "merchant education day," overseen by the Contra Costa County Health Services Department. The video will be shown at middle and high schools statewide.
Group leaders had scouted stores that skirted the law on tobacco sales -- either by selling directly to minors, or placing displays within the reach of minors. The group members visited the stores Saturday.
Walking along 23rd Street, Janice Reed, 16, clicked a photo of an ad for Camel cigarettes posted in the barred window of a store before walking in and asking to see the manager.
She introduced herself and handed manager Bassam Salman an information packet.
"There's stuff in here to help you stay up to code with the laws," she said.
Salman, who first appeared surprised but then relaxed, told the group he has posted all of the required notices and keeps up with the legal requirements.
"He was cool," she told her compatriots after leaving the store.
The information kits contain copies of state laws and city codes governing tobacco sales to minors, employee education posters, decals, information on how to report unlawful sales and how to advise youths about laws prohibiting tobacco purchases.
The ETA project at Middle College, an alternative high school program managed jointly between the West Contra Costa school district and Contra Costa Community College, is one of many managed by the county Health Services Department.
The department also runs groups at Mt. Diablo and Pittsburg high schools and the juvenile detention center, and provides mentors and conducts presentations in area high schools.
One of this ETA group's first missions was to bridge what they describe as a significant gap with the Richmond police.
Police Chief Ron Samuels and six sergeants attended a school-based meeting chaired by the students. They agreed to assign a police officer, Charles Whitney, to illegal tobacco and alcohol sales, and on Saturday, Richmond police Explorer Scouts accompanied the students.
Last year, the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors stepped up an offensive against illegal tobacco sales, requiring licenses of all merchants in unincorporated areas, including North Richmond. Despite previous efforts, more than 16 percent of county stores sold tobacco products to minors in the fiscal year 2000-01, according to the food and drug branch of the California Department of Health Services.
A study of middle school students by the University of Massachusetts Medical Center last year indicated that girls become addicted to tobacco in about three weeks; boys, within six months.