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Smoking 'looks cool,' unconcerned teens insist

Health risks and the disapproval of parents appeared to have little effect on the young smokers

Friday, April 03, 1998

By Carmen J. Lee, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

With his bright red-orange hair, pale skin and black T-shirt and jeans, Cory Frolik, 15, didn't need to do much more to attract attention.

Cory Frolik, 15, a student at Schenley High School, says he started smoking three years ago, but plans to quit someday. (John Beale Post-Gazette)

Then the Schenley High School sophomore lit up one of his Kamel Red Lights. He explained that he had begun smoking three years ago because he "liked the flair of it."

"It intrigued me," he said yesterday as he stood across the street from the Oakland school. "I saw other people smoking and I decided to pick up one of the butts and try it."

Brennan Kossol, 15, a 10th-grader at Ringgold High School in Carroll, Washington County, was more nonchalant about his year-old smoking habit.

"It's just something I like to do," he said. "I don't really think about it, I just do it. It's not because all my friends are doing it. It's not a peer pressure thing."

Frolik and Kossol are among the growing number of teen-agers across the country who smoke or use tobacco in some form. They and several other Western Pennsylvania youngsters interviewed said they had picked up the habit for reasons that included stress and wanting "to look cool."

Only one person mentioned peer pressure as a factor -- though smoking for some teens appears to be a group activity, as demonstrated by a few students, black and white, smoking together across the street from Schenley after school.

"When you're chillin' with smokers, a cigarette calms you," Frolik said. "When you need to pause in the conversation, you can just smoke your cigarette."

Health risks and the disapproval of parents -- when parents know -- appeared to have little effect on the young smokers.

"My mother has made me smoke a whole cigar and eat the rest of it, but I still haven't quit," said Rachael John, 12, a seventh-grader at Finley Middle School in Union, Washington County, adding that she'd been smoking since she was 10. "What can my mother do? She smokes too."

Frolik said he and his parents didn't talk about his smoking, though he knew they didn't like it.

"It's an unspoken bond," he said.

And warnings that smoking can cause cancer don't faze him.

"Telling me it means I'm going to stay five-three for rest of my life -- now, maybe that would scare me," he said, smiling between drags.

Linda Tyler, 17, a Schenley junior who carried two packs of cigarettes in a plastic bag yesterday, said she'd been smoking since she was 11 and was not worried about the health risks.

"A lot of kids have a self-destructive attitude when they're young," said John Nagy, 17, a Ringgold senior and a smoker. "They know it's bad to smoke, but they don't think anything is going to happen to them.

"I know it's bad, and I would just like to know in my own mind that I will be able to quit someday and be healthy. But I'm afraid that I may never be able to quit."

Other students either weren't worried about quitting or were confident that they would eventually kick the habit.

Mark Johnson, a Schenley sophomore, said he planned to stop smoking July 14, when he turned 16 and started driving.

Frolik expects to quit in a year, but for now, he appears to revel in an image that includes smoking and is the opposite of what he said was the image of his parents, who he said were lawyers.

"I like walking around late at night, smoking a cigarette," he said. "When I'm only walking around, I'm just a little kid. But when I'm walking around and smoking, I'm a little kid with a cigarette."

Washington County free-lance writer Beth Hope-Cushey contributed to this report.

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