PINE BLUFF, AR—Lee Brandt, 11, a fifth-grader at North Woods Elementary School, announced Monday that he and his friends plan to spend Friday night smoking cigarettes.

Brandt (center) shares a cigarette with two of his fellow new smokers.

"Tommy [Stovall] said he stole a pack from his mom's carton of Virginia Slims," Brandt said. "He said she goes through them so fast she'd never notice one missing. He's supposed to instant-message me after school if he could get some. And he said if he can't swipe some from his mom, he knows where his sister hides hers. Either way, we're set."

The smoking is set to take place at 8 p.m. in Hanrahan Park, a site chosen for conduciveness to furtive, pre-adolescent smoking.

"The park has this thing, it's like a solid-wood hamster wheel," Brandt said. "I figure that'd be the best place to go, because you can't see it from the street, and we can still smoke there even if it starts raining. It's either that or underneath the big slide, which isn't as hidden. Plus, it smells really bad under there, so that's a last resort."

Though Brandt and Stovall have smoked an estimated 10 cigarettes each in the last six months, they are excited to have the opportunity to devote a full evening to the endeavor.

"Before, Tommy could only swipe an already open pack from his mom because he didn't know where she hid the cartons," Brandt said. "We'd have to save them for special occasions like the sixth-grade dance or sneaking out of Sunday school. This time, though, we'll be able to take our time and really focus on the smoking."

In addition to Stovall, Brandt said he is expecting friends Rob Marchand and Patrick Ayler, as well as class tomboy Sheri Eiland, to show up.

"Rob invited Sheri because he's had a crush on her since fourth grade. And Tommy never does anything without his little sidekick Patrick," Brandt said. "I just hope we have enough cigarettes, with so many people coming. We should be okay, though: Patrick's probably only gonna smoke one or two, because he's a big wuss and practically had to be forced into coming. Me, I'll smoke at least five or six."

Even though the young smokers have mutually sworn to keep the event a secret, a few leaks have occurred.

"Marisa [Ebenkamp] asked what Lee and I were talking about at lunch last Wednesday," Stovall said. "I told her we were talking about smoking, and she freaked. I shouldn't be surprised. Marisa's a total loser and acts like a little baby, with all that 'N Stink crap she's into. I just hope she doesn't tell anyone. I'd hate to miss out on smoking just because she can't keep her stupid mouth shut."

Another near-setback occurred last Thursday, when Stovall's mother forbade him from hanging out with Brandt.

"Mom thinks Lee's a bad influence, but everything's cool," Stovall said. "As long as we make all our plans at school or over the Internet, she'll never find out. Besides, me and Lee don't hang out that much, just mainly when we try to get cigarettes or when we want to chuck rocks at that closed-up 7-Eleven."

Despite the careful planning leading up to the event, Brandt said the evening's activities are relatively unstructured.

"We'll probably just hang out and, you know, smoke," Brandt said. "Maybe we'll compare cigarettes we've smoked before. Like that open pack of Kools somebody left on the table at Wendy's. And maybe there'll even be some teenagers in the park we can trade with."

Brandt, who is certain he can avoid getting caught by the police officers who patrol the park after nightfall, is equally confident that his parents will not find out about his illicit endeavor.

"I snagged a bottle of Febreeze from the hall closet and put it in my backpack," Brandt said. "That should cover up the smell. If that doesn't work, we've already decided to tell our parents we were hanging out right near the smoking section at Denny's."

Brandt is already looking forward to gathering with friends and recounting the smoking adventure at the cafeteria lunchtable Monday.

"If there's one thing even better than smoking," Brandt said, "it's talking about smoking."