Youth group asks for bus stop smoking restrictionsMembers of the East Hillside Patch Mind to Mind program surveyed bus riders at downtown transit centers and found that most thought smoking around children at bus stops is a problem.
By: Peter Passi, Duluth News Tribune
Children from Duluth’s Hillside neighborhood have become advocates for change in the community. Because of concerns about the dangers of second-hand smoke, a group of like-minded young activists, ages 6 to 14, joined forces today to ask the city to further restrict smoking around bus stations throughout the community.
“It makes me feel good that we’re trying to make things change for the better,” said Morganh Chathavond, a 9-year-old member of the East Hillside Patch Mind to Mind program.
Between May and July, young people involved in the program surveyed 211 bus riders waiting at downtown transit centers.
Wearing shirts that said — “I am a designated no-smoke area” — they presented their findings in front of the downtown transit center this morning. The young researchers found that 87 percent of survey respondents thought smoking around children at downtown bus stations is a problem. Furthermore, 75 percent of respondents backed the idea of banning smoking in designated areas around bus stops.
“For me, it was really educational,” said Tracy Onchwari, a 12-year-old involved in the survey efforts. “It’s pretty fun to be a part of trying to make a change.”
Onchwari said she also was encouraged to learn that adults weren’t indifferent to her own public health concerns.
“It felt good to know that people actually cared,” she said.
Dennis Jensen, general manager of the Duluth Transit Authority, said smoking already is prohibited inside bus shelters or in the transit center across from the Holiday Center. But there’s a proposal being considered to forbid smoking within a certain distance of bus shelters, as well. Jensen praised the survey conducted by young people and said it could be a useful tool to help make the case for larger smoke-free transit zones.
“This effort will be something these kids will remember for the rest of their lives if it leads to the passage of some new rules,” Jensen said.
Jahna Hardy, a project coordinator, said adult staff accompanied members as they surveyed bus riders downtown. The chaperones saw the behavior of their young charges gain confidence during the course of the project.
“At first it was like pulling teeth, but the last few weeks they were begging us to go out and survey,” she said.
Hardy said the summer project was less about the single issue of second-hand smoking than empowerment.
“It’s about learning that young people have a voice, and they can advocate for change,” she said.