Maya Adrabi is too young to visit a voting booth. But that didn't stop the 16-year-old high school student from rallying Sunday against a ballot initiative that she believes could "murder" her generation.
"I refuse to see my friends be poisoned," Maya said of Proposition 188, an initiative on Tuesday's ballot that would permit smoking in restaurants and most other buildings in California.
Maya joined nearly 50 protesters--mostly members of Kids Against Public Smoking, or KAPS--who gathered in front of the Van Nuys American Cancer Society building to oppose the initiative.
Wearing shirts that read "2nd Hand Smoke Causes Disease, Disability, Death," the protesters urged adults to vote the measure down Tuesday, contending it would expose millions of people to secondhand smoke.
"This proposition is nothing but a pack of lies," said Jean Sun, a Van Nuys High School student. "It's full of deceit."
Sponsored by tobacco giant Philip Morris USA, Proposition 188 would return to restaurants and other businesses the right to permit smoking. Businesses that allow smoking would be required to provide ventilation, although the standards outlined in the proposition are not designed to reduce health risks from tobacco smoke.
The initiative would erase local smoking bans from Los Angeles to Redding, and prevent cities from regulating tobacco use in the future. The initiative also collides head-on with a bill passed by the state Legislature that would ban smoking in most enclosed workplaces--from restaurants and offices to factories and most warehouses.
"Philip Morris doesn't give a damn about your health, their only concern is to make a profit," said Alan Zover, moderator of the protest and founder of KAPS.
Zover started the organization in 1987 after reading then-Surgeon General C. Everett Koop's first report on the dangers of secondhand smoke.
"My daughters were 8 and 10 years old at the time," said Zover, who lives in Agoura Hills. "I felt it was a profound injustice that innocent children should be exposed to cancer-causing agents that are known to be in secondhand smoke."
So Zover began giving speeches about the dangers of secondhand smoke to San Fernando Valley high school students.
He said he hoped his efforts would persuade young people to support smoking bans and to take their views to local elected officials.
"I believed the voice of innocents would have a profound effect," Zover said "The kids would go to the city council and say, 'If we can't vote, who's going to protect us?' "
Assemblyman Terry B. Friedman (D-Brentwood), author of the statewide smoking prohibition law, also attended Sunday's rally. He alleged that Proposition 188 is "the biggest fraud" in the history of California politics.
"Are we going to let the tobacco company buy this election?" Friedman asked.
Drafters of Proposition 188 argue that the initiative would protect nonsmokers, while ensuring that the government does not interfere with personal liberties. And some opponents of smoking bans argue that these types of ordinances could hurt businesses.
But 17-year-old Elisa Ung said she believes the tobacco company's only concern is to protect its profits.
"They're saying it's a reasonable solution to a tough problem," she said. "It's only reasonable if you are a tobacco company protecting your profits." She added that the initiative is unfair to nonsmoking Californians who would be exposed to secondhand smoke.
"The authors want us to believe it is protecting people. There is nothing further from the truth," said Harriet Sculley, president of the 31st District Parent Teacher Student Assn. "The tobacco industry's lies show how desperate they have become. They are counting on the public to be too ignorant to understand what this proposition really means."