Smoke & Mirrors: Students Find Smoking Policies Rigid and Lax

Article excerpt

GET CAUGHT SMOKING at school and you may face suspension or expulsion. Or you could be fined, perhaps sentenced to hours of community service. But you'll probably be ignored. At least that's Erik Biggs' prediction.

Biggs, a 15-year-old sophomore at Parkway Central High School, describes an unspoken agreement between teachers and students, overriding the Parkway district's official no-smoking policy.

"In the rulebook it says kids aren't allowed to smoke," Biggs says. "We do it anyway - out back - and they don't try to stop it."

How could they? Hundreds of Parkway Central teen-agers smoke. Nationwide, millions of teens smoke; apparently more - and younger - than ever before. Policing those who break the rule is an activity most teachers don't want to sponsor. Letting it slide, as long as student smokers follow the remaining rules, is often the preferred approach.

Biggs certainly prefers that. As he and three friends contemplated the alternatives while they relaxed on the sidewalk outside Chesterfield Mall last week, two of the teens were smoking. All agree that "compromise" is the key to a successful school smoking policy.

Dan Keleman, 18, a pack-a-day senior at Parkway Central, said that increased theft and rebellion will result if the government tries to curb a teen's access to cigarettes.

"If my mom didn't buy my cigarettes for me," Keleman said, "I'd just buy them anyway." He says his relationship with his mother has improved since she "compromised."

Biggs, an "occasional smoker," believes that leniency works well at Parkway Central. He's not alone. From Hazelwood to Brentwood to Rockwood, students speak of educators who prefer giving verbal reminders or reprimands to imposing punishments.

The Ritenour School District seems the most accommodating. Students can smoke in outdoor areas supervised by staff. A signed parental permission slip is all that's required.

"When they're in high school, these students are making choices for themselves," says Cindy Gibson, Ritenour's Director of Community Relations. The area maintained by the smokers has been around for nearly 25 years. "It also helps protect students who don't smoke," she added.

Without an outdoor smoking area, the rationale goes, smokers use bathrooms, thus affecting non-smokers. There's some merit in the argument; students at Ladue and Pattonville high schools, where there are no outlets for smokers, say the bathrooms sometimes reek of cigarette smoke. …