BALTIMORE (WJZ) — More than one in six Baltimore City high school students used tobacco products for the first time last year. A new health initiative is hoping to change that.

Amy Yensi has more.

The city is hoping retailers follow the law.

There’s no room for smoking on this west Baltimore court.

“I like to play basketball and it hurts your lungs,” said 14-year-old Andre Hawkins.

Not all Baltimore young people agree.

The city’s health department says 17% of high schoolers and 12% of middle schoolers reported using tobacco for the first time last year.

“We know that smoking leads to cancer, leads to lung disease, leads to heart disease. This is killing our youth,” said Health Commissioner Dr. Leana Wen.

Wen says Baltimore teens are smoking at an earlier age than their peers across the state.

A new city-wide public education campaign aims to reverse this troubling trend. Now residents can call 311 to report businesses selling tobacco to anyone under 18.

“Once we get the call, the health department will investigate each and every complaint,” said Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake.

Business owners are vowing not to sell cigarettes to minors but some residents say the efforts won’t stop teen smoking.

“The kids are still going to get it, regardless,” said Gregory Boone.

“They see other people do it, so they pick up the habit,” said Dayon Lansdowne. “I’m not a follower. I’m a leader.”

The city has also hired two additional enforcement officers to make sure retailers are following the rules.

Health officials say every day, more than 2,800 young people in the US try their first cigarette.


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