School Tobacco Policy: A Medical Perspective

By DiFranza, Joseph R. | Journal of School Health, November 1989 | Go to article overview

School Tobacco Policy: A Medical Perspective


DiFranza, Joseph R., Journal of School Health


School Tabacco Policy: A Medical Perspective

Children who use tobacco present school personnel with a difficult disciplinary problem that cannot be resolved with any easy solutions. However, tobacco use is more than a disciplinary issue, it is serious health issue - an addiction - that commonly has trial fatal longterm consequences. Approximately one-half of all smokers ultimately die of diseases caused by smoking.

Nicotine addiction can be considered a childhood disease due to fact the average age for first use of cigarettes is 13 years, and for snuff, 10 years. [1] This devastating childhood disease has killed more Americans than all wars fought by the United States. School personnel, parents, and the health care community must work together to discourage tobacco use and to provide help for children addicted to nicotine. This commentary proposes a school tobacco that involves parents and the health care community in a multidisciplinary response to this difficult medical and behavioral problem.

Policy 1: Student shall not be allowed to possess Tobacco products on school grounds. Tobacco products brought on school grounds shall be confiscated.

In all but a few states, it is illegal to supply minors with tobacco. [2] Allowing children to use or carry tobacco on school grounds fosters disrespect for the law and reinforces attitudes that smoking is safe. Possession of tobacco should be treated with the same degree of seriousness as possession of alcohol. Students should not be searched but, if the tobacco product is visible, it should be confiscated. This policy applies to smokeless tobacco as well as cigarettes.

Policy 2: Use of tobacco products be students, staff, and visitors shall be pointed in school buildings, on school property, and at school functions.

Studies show that policies prohibiting students from using tobacco on school property effectively discourage children for stating. [3] In direct contrast, providing students with smoking areas condones smoking. A designated smoking area provides children with a safe heaven to learn their peers how to smoke subjects children to peer pressure to smoke, and rewards smokers with an opportunity to flaunt their "maturity" by smoking.

As recently as 1986 and 2% of school districts banned smoking by adults as well as students, but by 1989 17% of school districts had adopted such policies. [4] Inspired by a united effort among the National School Boards Association and many medical associations, the number of smoke-free school districts in increasing. [4]

Three arguments support the need for smoke-free schools. First, tobacco use can be a fatal habit, and thus, school personnel should not act as smoking role models, exhibiting behavior that says is acceptable. Children need to receive consistent messages. One teacher who smokes may influence childrens' attitudes as much as an entire curriculum on tobacco. Second, allowing adults but not students to smoke gives students the message that smoking is for adults, providing a powerful incentive for children to smoke. Third, students are quick to note the hypocrisy of adults who smoke while telling students not to do so.

Some teachers may be offended by a smoking ban, but workplace smoking bans are growing rapidly. Between 1986 and 1987 the proportion of private sector companies that banned smoking in their buildings increased from 6% to 12%. [5] While private industry is creating smoke-free workplaces, the rationale for schools to adopt such standards is even stronger due to the compelling for health of children.

Policy 3: If students possess tobacco products, their parents shall be notified and invited to meet with school personnel concerning the matter,

Almost every parent, even those who smoke, disapprove of their children smoking. Unfortunately, many children already have developed an addiction to nicotine before their parents discover that have been using tobacco. …

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