12/05/04 — How far should school anti-smoking rules go?

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How far should school anti-smoking rules go?

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on December 5, 2004 2:06 AM

Advocates for tobacco-free schools presented their case Friday in Wayne County in the hopes that the local school system would join others that have adopted the stringent policy.

Suzanne DePalma, director of the Tobacco Free Schools program for the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, said she recognizes that tobacco has deep roots in eastern North Carolina.

But, she adds, "adopting a 100 percent tobacco free school policy does not mean school leaders are saying 'no' to the tobacco farming community. It means they are saying 'yes' to providing the best possible learning environment for their students."

She said that since 2000, 45 of the state's 115 school systems have adopted the tobacco free policy. The policy bans all tobacco use everywhere on school property at all times, including outdoor athletic and other school-sponsored events.

School and community leaders are working to pass the policy in at least 40 other school systems. In 2002, the N.C. Health and Wellness Trust Fund provided 70 community grants statewide to lead the effort.

Duplin, Greene, Jones, Lenoir, Nash, Sampson and Wilson are among the other eastern counties whose school systems have not adopted the policy.

Dean Sauls, Wayne County athletic director, said the school system's current policy dictates there be no tobacco use by students anywhere on school grounds and that faculty can smoke in designated areas only.

As for athletic and other events, he said, the no-smoking rule applies only to staff and students, not the public. Sauls said his office has heard nothing about needing to change the rules.

"Principals say everything's lovely at the schools," he said. "Our board has adopted this policy. If it tells us to pursue the issue, we will."

Lehman Smith, chairman of the school board, said the school system's current policy is sufficient. It discourages youth tobacco use and makes sure any teachers or adults in the school who smoke do so out of students' sight. Smith was not at the forum but was asked to comment by the News-Argus.

"There has been some discussion" about changing the policy, he said, "but we live in a tobacco county."

He said he thinks the current policy is working and has received a lot of support. The main concern, he said, is not to alienate those in the community who support the schools and athletic events.

"You're not really being fair to the parents that are addicted," he said. "We don't want to run them off from the ball games."

He said that smoking is not allowed inside a school gymnasium, and smoking is not a problem at football games because they are outside.

"Most of this is coming down from the state board," he said. "Even though the state board helps us tremendously, not always do they come out and represent what the people want."

At Friday's forum, a school board chairman, superintendent and high school principal offered advice on implementing and enforcing the policy.

Jim Martin, state adviser on preventing teen tobacco use, said it is critical that schools look at the subject from a local perspective.

"It's the number one preventable cause of death," he said. "Looking back at school age, that's where it begins."

He said that statistically, the average age one begins using tobacco products is between 12 and 14 years old, with some starting as early as 9.

"It's a very early age for someone to become addicted," he said.

Dr. Julia Mobley, superintendent of Pamlico County schools, said that at the onset of adolescence, the brain is more susceptible to drugs.

"It's very difficult, if not impossible, to break that habit as they get older," she said.

She said it was an interesting journey getting it to the school board and then enforcing the policy. But since it has been adopted, she said, it has met with success.

"When they had to do it in athletic events, guess what happened?" she said. "Everybody applauded."

Carroll Ipock II, school board chairman for Craven County schools, said his school system has used the policy for a year and a half. It initially caused a split vote on the school board because many in the agriculturally based rural community were not ready for it.

"Smoking is a personal issue," he said. "It's just that our campuses are smoke free."