Normally, in a court system flushed with cases of drug dealing and
violent crime, such offenders would get a $25 fine or a short stint in
a stop-smoking program. But under a pioneering new court to open this
fall in Utah, teen smokers will get more attention - and harsher
Utah's Tobacco Court is the first of its kind in the nation. Coming at
a time when President Clinton has put teen smoking high on the
nation's agenda, it is an experiment in how best to reform young
violators. And it could hold valuable lessons for other states seeking
to cut rising youth-smoking rates.
The creation of Joseph Anderson, a judge in Utah's Third District, the
court has been on the drawing board for the past 2-1/2 years. Judge
Anderson found that he was one of a few juvenile judges trying to deal
with smoking infractions, which most saw as insignificant compared
with other juvenile problems.
"They said there are just too many of them.... 'We don't have the
resources,' " says Anderson, whose Third District handles half of the
state's 10,000 smoking violations each year. "Both in terms of health
problems and legal problems, we needed to do something."
Indeed, proponents of the new court point out that, according to the
US surgeon general, cocaine use is 30 times more likely among smokers
than nonsmokers. Others say smoking is also a strong indicator of
"You tend to see kids smoking who don't have much else in their
lives," says Mr. Decker.
For the Utah courts, other addictions and problems have been higher
priority. Only reluctantly did the Utah Supreme Court let Anderson
experiment with his program for a year. The state court gave him
$10,000 to start, and he eked out $20,000 more from other contributors
including the state attorney general and the state health department.
That's enough to get the program up and running.
Tobacco Court will work out of small claims court with volunteer,
pro-tem judges. They will have the authority to levy fines as much as
$250, require community service, and send youths to smoking-education
programs. If the teens thumb their noses at the law, they can have
their driving privileges suspended.
"Our emphasis is to push them toward education," says Anderson.
Tobacco Court will use a program called STTOP - Stop Teen Tobacco -
one of a few substance-abuse programs that concentrates exclusively on
smoking. The program reinforces good behavior through activities and
is heavily reliant on parental participation, says coordinator Raymond
That was a problem for Anderson when he sentenced the boy from the
group home. The courts had already terminated the boy's family's
parental rights. Instead, Anderson sent the boy to the program with a
worker from the home.
"Smoking isn't a simple problem," says Decker. "When you look at the
different reasons kids smoke - their home life, emotional needs, and
other situations ... it's hard to know which incentives and
consequences you use."
Now, Tobacco Court has a year to prove that it can mete out the right
incentives and consequences.