When Suzie Tornatore asked the students in her smoking cessation clinic at Mount Hebron High School whether anyone had made it through the "cold-turkey" period, no hands went up, but a few heads dropped.

The consensus: 48 hours was a long time. One student said he "cut down." Another confessed that he smoked more during that time.

The eight students enrolled in this semester's clinic at the Ellicott City high school aren't giving in to the nicotine urge without a fight, though. For two weeks, they have been gnawing coffee stirrers, chomping on sticks of gum and biting their fingernails while trying to kick the habit.

In June, the Howard County school system tried to encourage student smokers to quit and to improve the environment for other students by banning smoking on school property. Smoking had been legal in designated areas in the county's eight high schools since 1972.

Student smokers are responding to the regulation by finding other places to smoke, primarily beyond school boundaries, but some admit that they use bathroom stalls if necessary.

"If you're addicted, you're going to smoke anyway," said John Maggio, a Mount Hebron freshman.

Even though some student smokers say they will sneak a cigarette even if it means breaking the rules, the number of violations has been minimal, said School Superintendent Michael Hickey.

"We made the rules clear and most students are abiding by them."

An evaluation of the smoking ban and statistics on violations that have occurred since the ban took effect will be presented at the Jan. 24 meeting of the school board.

Although firm statistics about the number of student smokers are difficult to find, school officials said that last spring 672 students received permission slips from their parents allowing them to smoke in school.

While administrators are calling the new policy a surprising success, students have argued that the regulation violates their rights.

Large numbers of students protested the regulation at school board hearings and presented petitions opposing it with hundreds of signatures.

Joshua Lewis, president of the Student Government Association at Oakland Mills High School in Columbia, said the student government lobbied against it on the basis of individual rights.

"It's a kid's right to smoke," Lewis said. But as a nonsmoker, he added, it angers him to enter the bathroom and find it choked with smoke from students trying to elude school officials.

"Some kids can't go without a cigarette, so they've come back to the bathrooms," he said.

Students who smoke said they are being unfairly discriminated against.

Mount Hebron sophomore Pam Buckley said, "They gave us something and took it away and now we're being punished for our addiction."

Eddie Harris, a junior at Mount Hebron and a two-pack-a-day smoker, said, "I know smoking's bad for me, but I don't want somebody telling me I can't smoke."

Hickey said the school system has a right to set policy on school property. "If they want to smoke off school grounds, that's fine," he said.

In September, Hickey recommended to the board that possession of tobacco also be prohibited, with the idea that the smoking ban would then be easier to enforce. The board decided to table that proposal until the evaluation of the ban was completed. Since then, Hickey said, "There really hasn't been a problem, so I just let {the proposal} go."

Principal Sue Ann Tabler said that there have been "no more than 15" offenses at Oakland Mills High School, which has a student population of 1,150. "I'm pleased to see the policy in place," she said. "Of course, I have a strong bias." Tabler is state director of the American Lung Association.

"We have far fewer students smoking today than in the early '70s, when smoking was first allowed," Tabler said. She estimated that about 4 percent of the students at Oakland Mills smoke.

Smoking areas first arrived during the liberal climate of the early 1970s, and were instituted in part because of smoking students' abuse of the bathrooms, said Ron Elwell, the school system's director of health.

The philosophy at the time was that if youths had a place to smoke, the bathrooms would be smoke-free, Elwell said. Today, with the greater health awareness among children and adults, some believed that by allowing smoking, the school system was sending students a double message, Elwell said. "Any statistics you'll find show that smoking is detrimental to one's health, and we try to teach good health practices," he said.

Howard County is not the only school system putting the ban on butts. Prince George's County ended smoking in its high schools two years ago. And in Montgomery County, individual principals decide whether to allow smoking, and it is forbidden in one school. But spokesman Bill Henry said the possibility of a systemwide ban is being seriously discussed by school officials.

Meanwhile, Tornatore is keeping her fingers crossed that the students in her smoking cessation class put out their cigarettes for good. Two of the students are taking the class for the second time, and Tornatore said the success rate is low.

"We're trying to motivate and educate," she said of the program's long-term goals. Or if that doesn't work, "at least get them through the school day without a cigarette."