Smoking can be a nasty habit -- an addiction that 64 students at Owings Mills High School renounced recently as part of the school's second Kick Butts event, a weeklong program aimed at helping teen-agers nix the nicotine craze.
"Most students don't want to smoke. They know it's an awful habit and it's expensive," said Cindy Wasserman, a health teacher at Owings Mills who spearheaded the program. "Some of them came back again this year hoping to make good on a promise to stop smoking."
According to state statistics, 42.8 percent of high school seniors in a 1998 survey said they were regular smokers, which means they smoke at least half a pack of cigarettes every 30 days. Of those students, 59.1 percent said they tried to quit smoking but could not.
At Owings Mills' luncheon ceremony yesterday, 64 students celebrated their recent decision to go cigarette-free. They did it with the help of 54 peer counselors, students trained as part of a program called Teens Against Tobacco Use.
Counselors helped smokers keep away from cigarettes during the Kick Butts campaign with daily meetings and snacks such as pretzels and candy to ward off cravings, said Wasserman.
"We set up two tables in the cafeteria so that the students who signed up for the program could meet with their peer counselors," she said. "The counselors had to call their buddies every night at home. They called them twice daily over the weekend."
Some of the students who participated in the Kick Butts campaign signed up their parents and other family members, Wasserman said. Owings Mills student Krishna Rami, 15, persuaded five members of her family to forgo chewing tobacco for that week.
Wasserman plans to keep in touch with all 64 students during the rest of the school year to ensure they don't slip back into the nicotine habit. "The first week is really the worst," she said. "If they can stay off cigarettes for a week, that's pretty good."