Bans on Faculty Smoking Urged
Washington--To effectively curb tobacco use among teen-agers, school districts should include teachers and staff members in their no-smoking policies, health and education officials said at a meeting here.
"What is good for the goose should be good for the gander," said Angela Mickel, coordinator of the legislative clearinghouse for the Tobacco-Free Young America Project.
She and other speakers at the meeting, sponsored by the National School Boards Association this month, said hundreds of districts and individual schools have become "smoke free" over the last two years, reflecting a growing awareness that school staff members' smoking behavior is also an influence on students.
The trend toward smoke-free schools, they said, is also in keeping with the nationwide movement to reduce smoking in the workplace and reflects growing public concern about the dangers of "secondhand" smoke.
School districts in many states--including Colorado, Georgia, Minnesota, North Dakota, and Virginia--have recently introduced tobacco-free policies.
The policies have been successful, school-board members were told, because, in the main, they have had the support of local teachers' unions.
Neither the National Education Assocation nor the American Federation of Teachers has adopted a formal position on the issue, spokesmen for the unions said last week.
Although the percentage of high-school seniors who smoke daily declined from a peak of about 30 percent in the mid-1970's to about 20 percent last year, health experts at the conference said that a new push is needed to deter all smoking. And one of the most effective anti-smoking weapons, they said, is the creation of smoke-free school environments.
District officials have been forced to take the lead on this issue, the experts said. Only 11 states prohibit student smoking on school grounds, they noted, and no state prohibits smoking by school staff members.
A total of 31 states and the District of Columbia allow school personnel to smoke only in specially designated areas.
An nsba survey conducted in 1986 found that almost half of the districts responding had banned smoking on school premises by stu4dents. But only 2 percent, the survey found, had banned smoking by school personnel.
But board members attending the conference indicated that many districts have adopted new policies, including totally smoke-free policies, within the past year. In Minnesota, for example, nearly half of the state's 435 school districts adopted smoke-free policies during 1987.
Not a "Rights Issue"
Those at the conference who had helped implement such policies said they worked closely with teachers in the process. Although some teachers who smoked were initially unhappy with the new rules, they said, formal grievances were rare.
In many cases, the educators said, smoke-free policies had encouraged teachers to abandon the habit.
John M. Pinney, executive director of the Institute for the Study of Smoking Behavior and Policy at Harvard University, said that if a smoke-free policy "is done properly, if it's documented, if it's reasonable, it will withstand grievances."
Mr. Pinney recommended that districts implement such a policy gradually. For instance, he said, a district could set a date a year in advance for when the building would be totally smoke free. Until then, smoking by school personnel would be restricted to certain areas. And throughout the process, he stressed, staff members should be asked for comments and suggestions.
Teachers and other personnel are wrong when they argue that they have a right to smoke on school grounds, Mr. Pinney maintained.
"We're talking about a health and safety issue, not a rights issue,'' he said. "I understand the need for a cigarette--but they're not essential to teach a child."
"I think teachers rushing off to a lounge where they're all crammed in and coming back reeking of tobacco is not setting a good example," he said.
Stan Mack, superintendent of the Northfield (Minn.) School District 659, agreed. When formulating the district's smoke-free policy in 1986, he said, he told teachers that, through their example, they would be able to convince students not to smoke.
"We frankly try to embarrass people into compliance," said Mr. Mack.
Health experts at the conference said new research data highlight the importance of school-based anti-smoking efforts.
According to Arletta Bredehoft, director of the school-sites program for the American Heart Association, most adults who smoke were addicted to nicotine by the age of 16.
"The younger the child is when he first takes up smoking, the more ingrained that habit appears to be," she said.
Girls are more likely to take up the habit than boys, she noted. Statistics collected by the University of Michigan's Institute for Social Research show that 20.6 percent of female high-school seniors smoked daily in 1987, compared with 16.4 percent of senior boys.
This trend is especially disturbing, Ms. Bredehoft said, because 40 percent of the women under age 20 who give birth are smokers, and women who smoke are more likely to have complicated pregnancies and unhealthy babies.
In addition, said some speakers, tobacco use is often a precursor of drug abuse.
"Virtually every kid I have met who is involved with drugs or alcohol has also been involved with cigarettes," said Mark Nelson, the substance-abuse-prevention coordinator for the Fairfax County, Va., schools.
"Preventing drug use includes preventing tobacco use," he said.