Teens weigh in on smoking bill
Maurice Johnson, 17, is a veteran smoker. The South Boston teenager has been at it for years, getting cigarettes from friends and lighting up wherever he feels the urge. The urge came yesterday afternoon outside Copley Place Mall as two police officers s
But if lawmakers on Beacon Hill have their way, Johnson will have to be more discreet with his habit.
A proposed law would make it illegal for anyone under 19 to use or possess any tobacco products.
Johnson, though, is not worried about it. No law, he said, is going to stop him from puffing away.
''I'll smoke inside my house where police can't see me,'' he said. ''There are a lot of areas where police can't surround you.''
Under the proposed legislation, teens caught lighting up would have to perform community service or attend a tobacco education program, or both.
While the bill is a long shot to pass during the current legislative session, which ends July 31, it enjoys the backing of numerous lawmakers.
Tobacco opponents say it is vital that Massachusetts become the fourth state to pass such a law if it is serious about keeping teens from developing a potentially lethal habit.
But some teens interviewed yesterday, even those who don't smoke, said using laws to keep cigarettes out of their hands is futile.
Johnson said the proposed law would make it illegal for 18-year-olds to smoke even though they currently are permitted to buy cigarettes.
Teen smokers simply ''wouldn't smoke in public. They'd go home and smoke,'' said Bryan Newbold, 14, an eighth-grader at Boston Latin School who said he does not smoke. ''It would not completely solve the problem.''
Others said smoking might even rise.
''If they get in trouble, that's a risk they're going to want to take,'' said Richard McNulty, 15, a freshman at Madison Park Vocational Technical High School. ''They'll just want to smoke more. There's no point in doing anything.''
But other teens lauded the proposal's intent.
''I think it's good because kids shouldn't be smoking anyway. It messes up your lungs and you get addicted to it at a young age,'' said Candace Walker, 16, a sophomore at John D. O'Bryant School of Mathematics and Science in Roxbury who says she is not a smoker.
O'Bryant freshman Eduardo Espino, who said he tried smoking but didn't like it, agreed.
''I think it's a good law because smoking can kill people,'' said Espino, 14. ''I don't really want them to smoke, because when they grow up, they're going to have lung cancer at an early age.''
Some lawmakers and antitobacco activists say the consequences for breaking the statute are meant to educate, not punish teens.
The Tobacco Control Resource Center at Northeastern University has opposed efforts by other states to make teen smoking illegal, arguing that the laws are too difficult to enforce or don't offer educational alternatives.
''We're actually the nation's leading opponents of youth possession laws,'' said Graham Kelder, an attorney for the group. ''If we have given this our seal of approval, it must be because this will actually work and it will actually accomplish good things.''
Under the Massachusetts legislation, local police would enforce the law. Law enforcement officials have said they support the bill.
But Catherine A. Flaherty of the New England Convenience Store Association said the raise in age for legal possession of tobacco would make it more difficult for store clerks.
''This legislation would put clerks in the position of denying tobacco products to a whole new group of people who have previously had the legal right to buy such products,'' she said in a written statement addressed to lawmakers.
A spokesman for Governor Paul Cellucci said the governor needs to examine the bill before commenting. Yesterday's hearing was connvened by the Legislature's Joint Committee on Health Care.