MASCOT Members Urge Teen Tobacco Possession Law

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Efforts to prevent teens from smoking have been relatively unsuccessful. Up to one million teens begin smoking every year -- nearly 3,000 each day. Sadly, teen smoking rates continue to increase while adult rates decline [1].

Young people's reason for using tobacco has everything to do with emotion and nothing to do with rational decision making. Although health educators have been effective increasing youth awareness about the dangers of smoking, tobacco is a significant, visible, and readily available way for youth to signal they are in control [2].

Debbie Rodella (shown at right) wants to reduce this problem. As the state representative from Rio Arriba county, she introduced HB704 to make tobacco possession by underage teens a criminal violation. Convicted young smokers would face fines up to $1,000, as well as a maximum of 30 hours of tobacco cessation and prevention education for the first violation.

Send E-Letterto support Rep. Rodella

Rep. Debbie Rodela

Pro-active leaders in Missouri just introduced similar legislation. House members there are questioning the logic of the state's law prohibiting minors from buying tobacco products but allowing them to smoke. "Right now, literally, if police officers walked into a restaurant and saw kids smoking cigarettes, they can't stop them. That's crazy," said state Rep. Tom Hoppe, D-Kansas City.

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Rodella's proposed legislation for New Mexico states:
A. A minor shall not be in possession of tobacco products.

B. A violation of the provisions of Subsection A of this section is a misdemeanor and the offender shall be punished as follows:

  • (1) for a first violation, the offender shall be:
    • (a) fined an amount not more than one thousand dollars ($1,000); and
    • (b) ordered by the sentencing court to perform thirty hours of community service with a tobacco cessation and prevention program;
  • (2) for a second violation, the offender shall:
    • (a) be fined an amount not more than one thousand dollars ($1,000);
    • (b) be ordered by the sentencing court to perform forty hours of community service with a tobacco cessation and prevention program; and
    • (c) have his driver's license suspended for a period of ninety days. If the minor is too young to possess a driver's license at the time of the violation, then ninety days shall be added to the date he would otherwise become eligible to obtain a driver's license; and
  • (3) for a third or subsequent violation, the offender shall:
    • (a) be fined an amount not more than one thousand dollars ($1,000);
    • (b) be ordered by the sentencing court to perform sixty hours of community service with a tobacco cessation and prevention program; and
    • (c) have his driver's license suspended for a period of two years or until the offender reaches twenty-one years of age, whichever period of time is greater.

Download PDF format of bill here Acrobat download

MASCOT provides a summary of available research and related articles on this subject. We uncovered only one scientific-based study that had examined the effectiveness of teen possession laws. In "Teen Tobacco Court," researchers Langer and Warheit found significant reductions in teen smoking behavior after Florida instituted youth possession laws. MASCOT also highlights a general guideline paper from the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids as well as additional background information in the section below.

Teen Tobacco Court: A Determination of the Short-term Outcomes of Judicial Proceses with Teens engaging in Tobacco Possession - Adolescent & Family Health

Lilly M. Langer and George J. Warheit
Adolescent & Family Health, 2000
Vol. 1, No. 1, p.5-10, January 2001

Recent efforts to reduce tobacco use among minors have included the introduction and/or refinement of laws which make the purchase, possession, and/or use of tobacco illegal. The objective of this study was to determine the impact that being cited for tobacco possession and a subsequent court appearance had on tobacco attitudes and behaviors among a sample of teens attending a teen tobacco court (TTC) in South Florida.

Two waves of data were obtained during the first several months of 1999. The time one (T-1) sample included 402 teen offenders who completed questionnaires at the time of their TTC appearance. The time two (T-2) follow-up sample included 210 individuals who were interviewed at T-1. The T-2 interviews were conducted by telephone approximately two months after the T-1 interviews.

At T-1, 28.4% of the sample indicated that they used less tobacco than they did prior to their citation and 15.5% reported that they had not used tobacco since being cited. Significantly larger percentages of younger smokers reported less use and no use after the citation than the older teens. At T-2, 29.3% of the sample reported less tobacco use following TTC than prior to it; and 27.8% indicated that they had not used tobacco since. There were no significant differences in the T-2 tobacco use patterns among gender, ethnic, age and educational groups.

Findings indicated that being ticketed and appearing in TTC had significant short-term impacts on a very large percentage of those in the two samples. Additional follow-up studies need to be conducted to determine if the changes following citation and court processes persisted. Follow-up studies should also explore how factors other than the citation or court appearances influenced tobacco use.

The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids (CTFK) presents a summary of the issues.
(Download PDF format of their publication here).

MASCOT provides an analysis of Rep. Rodella's proposed legislation for New Mexico using the points addressed in the CTFK template.

Point 1: Youth penalty laws are substitutes for more effective control strategies, i.e., increasing price, restricting marketing, implementing new programs or counter-advertising.

New Mexico's legislature has resisted efforts to increase the price on tobacco. Advocates have tried for years to get additional excise tax increases; due to the Master Settlement Agreement, it is difficult to further restrict marketing; the state has implemented new anti-tobacco messaging, but this is a long-term proposition.

Point 2: Establishing youth penalties can divert the police from their efforts to stop retailers.

New Mexico police do not engage in compliance checks. In the past, tobacco control groups did under an FDA program. This is halted at this time.

Point 3: Laws that penalize children for possession that are not strictly enforced can breed disrespect for the law by young people.

MASCOT agrees. Give us the law and we'll work to ensure proper attention is given to enforcement.

Point 4: In many cases, state legislation preempts stronger or more effective legislation that make come later.

This is not applicable to Rodella's proposed legislation -- it is not preemptive.

Point 5: Youth penalty laws can sometimes make it difficult to run "sting" campaigns as kids can no longer participate.

Excellent point, MASCOT will work to ensure Rodella's legislation specifies youth can continue to participate in sting operations.

We ask all concerned citizens to support Representative Rodella's proposal. Send a consistent message. Tobacco and youth do not mix... Please take a moment to send an e-letter to show your support.