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Young lobbyists

Tobacco-industry opponents could learn a little something about lobbying from some middle school students in Runnemede, N.J.

Last spring, 40 students in the gifted and talented class at Mary E. Volz Middle School decided that posters and fliers were not enough to get their message out to the public about the hazards of cigarette smoking. So they launched their own organization, Children Opposed to Smoking Tobacco, complete with a catchy acronym--COST.

Since then, the crew of 6th, 7th, and 8th graders has conducted market research--a student survey found that 20 percent of the school's 300 students smoked. The students also dispatched their peers to buy cigarettes from vending machines and over-the-counter businesses in a "sting" operation, and they gathered 500 signatures on a petition to ban cigarette advertising targeted at young people.

All this activity earned the attention of local lawmakers, who introduced a bill last month in the New Jersey legislature that would ban all cigarette sales in vending machines statewide.

And President Clinton, who has launched his own drive to limit tobacco advertising to young people, honored the students' political savvy in a ceremony last spring.

"Tobacco companies are preying on children, and children are innocent victims," Linda Hurd, the students' teacher, said last week.

Hooked on a message

In Idaho, state officials have warned a school district that its after-school fly-fishing class needs to bolster its anti-drug message if it wants to keep being financed with federal money under the safe- and drug-free-schools program.

"We asked them to make changes so the focus was not on fly-tying and hobbies, but on substance abuse," said Patricia Getty, the state's safe- and drug-free-schools coordinator. But John Garner, the superintendent of the 1,200-student Kimberly district, said that casting in a streambed can have an important educational purpose.

"One of the concerns we are having is that kids involved in drugs don't have other interests that keep them away from alcohol and drugs," said Mr. Garner, whose district received $32,000 in drug-free-schools money from the state this year. "We are trying to provide lifelong skills to promote healthy living."


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