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Youngsters testify about teen smoking

October 28, 1997

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Sixteen-year-old Josh began smoking with one of his father’s discarded cigarette butts while Nickita Bradley said she picked up the habit because she felt ``left out″ while her friends puffed away.

But Brandi Battle and Kelli Jolly never wanted to smoke. Both play sports and that makes a difference, they told a Senate hearing on Monday.

``Athletes are going to do what’s best for their bodies,″ said Jolly, 20, a guard with the University of Tennessee’s national champion Lady Vols basketball team.

Lawmakers were trying to learn what motivates some youths to start smoking while barely in their teens, while others are able to resist the peer pressure to light up.

Congress has said a key element of a proposed national settlement with the tobacco industry will be money to pay for programs to prevent children from smoking.

But while 18-year-old Nickita quit, Josh remains hooked.

He was under pressure from his parents, both of whom smoked, but couldn’t stop. Smoking cessation patches and nicotine gum didn’t help and he smokes up to a pack of Newport brand cigarettes a day. He started at age 12.

``I guess I didn’t really want to quit,″ he calmly told the Senate Labor and Human Resources subcommittee on public health and safety. ``I’m sure I’ll want to quit sometime, I’m just not sure when.″

Medical experts who testified after Josh said the Virginia 11th-grader was typical of most of the 50 million adult and youth smokers nationwide: The vast majority want to quit but have lots of trouble doing so.

They asked that some of the proceeds from any national settlement be used to provide smokers with easy access to proven help for kicking the habit.

Such assistance ``should be a built-in cost of doing business for the tobacco industry,″ Tim McAfee, director of the Center for Health Promotion at the Group Health Cooperative of Puget Sound-Kaiser in Seattle.

Nickita said ``smoking seemed to be the thing to do.″ But two years after smoking her first cigarette at age 14, she found a reason to quit.

The Baltimore, Md., resident learned she was pregnant.

Nickita thinks her mother’s smoking caused her own asthma as well as health problems for an older brother. She quit cold turkey and gave birth to a healthy 8-pound, 9-ounce son, she said.

``I owed it to my baby to stop smoking,″ Nickita said.

For Brandi Battle, having relatives, including a mother and grandfather who smoked, was one factor that helped her decide not to ever start.

The 14-year-old from Washington, D.C., sees smoking’s effects firsthand. Also, as an athlete, she needs a strong and healthy body. And as a religious person, she said she wants to obey God’s word and treat her body like a temple.

``I have never personally seen anyone die from smoking, but each day I watch my mother smoke herself into an early grave,″ Brandi testified. ``I am too smart to begin a lifestyle that is self-destructive.″

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