Pubdate: Tue, 23 Mar 1999
Source: San Jose Mercury News (CA)
Copyright: 1999 Mercury Center
Author: Beth Rippen


I agree that 25 percent of the money from the tobacco settlements should go
to education on the physical effects of smoking in an effort to prevent
people, especially teens and children, from picking up the habit in the
first place (Letters, March 18).

As someone who started smoking four years ago, at age 15, I think that the
education minors now receive about the dangers of smoking, and the dangers
of drugs in general, is lacking -- particularly as it relates to peer
pressure. How else to explain why I and my friends, all aged 16 to 23, smoke
or are currently trying to quit?

I went to a new high school my senior year. As an outsider I was able to
watch the interactions my peers had with each other from an altogether
different standpoint. I realized that high school is filled with peer
pressure. Along with society's normal pressure to conform, these kids have
to balance fashion trends with school dress codes; the need for friends with
the demands of homework; and the desire to date with the fear of pregnancy
and STDs. These kids are under stress. A few of them gravitate toward
smoking as a way to handle that stress. I did.

The myth that ``everybody's doing it'' is false. A few do it. They tell
others that because they want more of their peers to do it. It's not out of
an intention to harm another, but out of a desire to be perceived as normal.

The smoker, the pothead, the crackhead and the drunk don't want to be
perceived as the deviant element in high school. So by telling his or her
friends that ``everybody's doing it,'' he or she is just hoping that by
saying it enough times to enough people, it will eventually be true. Because
then they won't be the freak anymore.

Beth Rippen Santa Clara

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