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TEEN OPINION PAGE: TOPIC FOR MARCH

Finally getting the message that cigarettes are hazardous to health, more adults are abandoning the smoking habit every year. But they are being replaced by teenagers.

Last month U.S. Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders released a report showing that growing numbers of teens are using tobacco. The report accused the tobacco industry of using advertising to lure youths to take up the habit.

"Young people are the chief source of new customers," Elders said. "Each day 3,000 young people must be recruited to start smoking in order for the tobacco industry to continue at the same level of business."

Elders said that tobacco advertising portrays smokers as members of what she called "The Five-S Club _ slim, sexy, sociable, sophisticated and successful." Ad campaigns like R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co.'s series featuring Joe Camel and his female partner, Josephine, appeal to young people and make smoking seem fun, she said.

The tobacco industry denied Elders' charges, arguing that as an industry it encourages young people not to smoke. Laws also are in place to prevent the sale of tobacco products to youths, but those laws seem widely ignored by retail outlets.

Statistics indicate that one-third to one-half of the young people who try cigarettes continue to smoke and become daily users. Arguing that if they can be kept from smoking in high school, they probably will never smoke, Elders called for a ban on cigarette advertising aimed at young people and for school-based anti-smoking programs.

The goal isn't just to keep young people healthy. Researchers say that teenagers who smoke cigarettes are more likely to drink, abuse drugs and be sexually promiscuous. Those problems may be reduced, Elders says, if teenagers can be stopped from smoking cigarettes.

This month's Teen Opinion Page is about smoking.

Why are more teenagers smoking? Do you smoke? Why or why not? Do you feel that tobacco advertising has influenced you in any way? Why aren't health warnings turning teenagers away from cigarettes?

Write your opinions in a letter to the editor according to the following rules, and attach a picture of yourself to your letter if you like. We'll use as many letters as possible on the Teen Opinion page March 31.

1. Only high school students are eligible.

2. Every letter must be signed by the writer and must include the writer's printed name, address, school and phone number. The address and phone number will not be printed.

3. Letters will not be considered for publication unless they bear this statement written by the student: "This letter may be printed by the St. Petersburg Times."

4. Letters must be received no later than March 21.

Mail or deliver letters to Teen Opinion, St. Petersburg Times, 710 Court St., Clearwater FL 34616 or fax by calling 445-4119. Letters may be edited and condensed. We regret that not all letters can be published.

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