School board backs ordinance

School officials support ordinance prohibiting teen tobacco possession

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As the Craig City Council continues to look at an ordinance prohibiting possession of tobacco by anyone under the age of 18, those who favor the prohibition just received a little more support.

The Moffat County School District Board of Education agreed Monday to support the proposed tobacco ordinance.

"It's frustrating," School Board president Gary Ellgen said. "You can drive right by the high school and see kids standing across the street smoking. I think that it's important that we show our support for a measure like this to be passed, so that it can begin to help some of these children."

Superintendent of Schools Duane Wrightson will draft a letter to the City Council showing the district's support of the ordinance and encouraging the Council to approve it.

The Council will hear the first reading of Ordinance No. 900, which prohibits the possession of tobacco by anyone under the age of 18 June 26. The ordinance will not pass until it has been approved on its second reading.

The ordinance was brought to the Council's attention by the Coalition Against Youth Tobacco Use (CAYTU), a local group formed with the goal of curbing tobacco use among minors.

"We need to be role models to these kids, and this is a good way to do it," coalition member Pres Askew said. "Nowadays, it is too easy for kids to get led in the wrong direction and that's where adults should be there to help them steer clear of problems like these."

CAYTU has borrowed ideas from ordinances other Colorado communities already have in place. Punishments for violating these ordinances can range from fines to education classes, and even unsupervised probation.

Though the ordinance is gaining more public support, a few Council members questioned the city's ability to enforce the ordinance in certain situations.

"What about a kid who is driving his parents car that is pulled over?" Councilman Bill Johnston asked. "Are they going to be ticketed for a pack of cigarettes that happens to be on the dashboard, even though they might belong to their parents?

"I also have questions as to the person in the car's rights after they are pulled over by an officer," he said. "What will give them the right to search the vehicle? Also, what parts of the vehicle will they be allowed to search? These are just a few of the questions that may arise in the future, so I think that it's important that we clear some of them up before we really proceed with the issue."

Police Chief Walt Vanatta assured the Council that searches would be limited to what is in open sight of the officer, and that the department would do their best to ensure that these searches were done properly.

"We are only going to look for cigarettes if that comes to our attention after pulling them over," he said. "It is not as though we are going to pull them over and go through all of their belongings to enforce the law, but if it passes, we do intend to enforce it."

Ridgeview Elementary School Principal Pete Bergmann agrees with the stance the school district is taking.

"I support this ordinance passing," he said. "We are in the business of teaching these children to make good choices, and those include making good health choices. Our curriculum supports a "no tobacco" policy as far as the students are concerned and it should be important that the law also sends the same message."

However, Bergmann believes that a tobacco ordinance shouldn't have to be addressed on a local level, but rather legislators at the state level should work to pass legislation that prohibits youth tobacco use statewide.

"This is long overdue, but it also shouldn't be something that we are forced to deal with on a local level," he said. "The legislature fell short when the passed the law to prohibit the sale of tobacco to minors. There is no reason why a law prohibits the sale of a product, yet doesn't prohibit the possession."

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