Headaches Seen in Insuring Smoke-Free Schools
Within the next year, educators who smoke will have to make new provisions for their habit, as a federal law has effectively banned tobacco in the nation's schools.
The Goals 2000: Educate America Act, which President Clinton signed into law late last month, includes a provision barring smoking in any indoor facility that receives federal funds and that provides educational or health services to children under the age of 18. The ban is not limited to recipients of Goals 2000 money.
Violators will be fined $1,000 per day, up to the total amount of the facility's federal aid.
The law requires the Secretary of Health and Human Services to publish the new rules in the Federal Register within nine months; they will take effect 90 days later.
Although the concept of smoke-free schools has a great deal of support at the state and local levels, some observers predict implementation headaches for some districts.
Most significantly, while the legislation specifies that the Health and Human Services Department will be responsible for monitoring the ban, it does not clearly state who would ultimately be held liable in cases where fines are assessed.
The conference report accompanying the legislation states that "enforcement action'' would be taken against "the person who provides the children's services.'' But "the official who controls the operation of the facility'' is responsible for insuring compliance.
Edward R. Kealy, the director of federal programs at the National School Boards Association, said this could result in school boards' being held liable.
"The thing that the school board is going to have to face is you can have the policy in place, but kids can still light up,'' Mr. Kealy said.
"Teachers can, too, for that matter,'' he said. "It's a problem, because you really can't stop people from smoking.''
Principals are also worried that they will be left to take the blame for others' addictive behavior.
"If we're at a game, and someone who's paid to get in lights up a cigarette, what am I supposed to do?'' asked John Hinson, the principal of Henry County High School in Paris, Tenn.
A Long Road
The no-smoking provision evolved from legislation that had been introduced by Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg, D-N.J., and Rep. Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill., in 1992 and 1993. Congress had not previously acted on it, but Mr. Lautenberg brought up the proposal as an amendment when the Senate version of Goals 2000 was considered on the Senate floor.
Aides and lobbyists said that heightened public awareness of the dangers of secondhand smoke and adolescent smoking, and pressure from the White House and Democratic leaders to enact the President's Goals 2000 education-reform package, set the stage for the passage of the smoking ban.
The arguments for keeping children safe from secondhand smoke is sufficiently compelling that "even the traditional tobacco opposition just melts away,'' said an aide to Rep. Henry A. Waxman, D-Calif., a supporter of smoking restrictions and the chairman of a key health subcommittee in the House.
The ban was included only in the Senate version of the bill, and thus House leaders named some members of the Energy and Commerce Committee, whose jurisdiction includes matters pertaining to indoor air, to work on the legislation during negotiations between House and Senate conferees.
Observers said that Mr. Waxman was able to push the amendment through with few changes because lawmakers protective of tobacco interests knew they would lose if colleagues were forced to take a public stance.
"In my opinion, they strengthened it,'' said Joy Epstein, the administrator for federal issues for the Coalition on Smoking OR Health, who said that the final version includes more specific language about the kind of services that fall under the ban than did the language added to the Senate bill.
Mr. Durbin had threatened to demand a recorded vote on a similar amendment during consideration of legislation to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which the House passed last month.
Even the tobacco lobby took a hands-off attitude.
"It's up to the teachers' unions'' to contest the ban, said Thomas Lauria, a spokesman for the Tobacco Institute, who added that industry leaders decided that it would not be in their interest to contest a bill concerning tobacco and children.
Mr. Lauria called the ban a "personal-freedom issue for adults in the educational system who are being treated like 11-year-olds.''
The National Education Association has long supported smoke-free schools, however.
While conceding that some smoking teachers may be frustrated by such a ban, Carolyn Breedlove, an N.E.A. senior professional associate, said that "there are fewer and fewer of those.''
Indeed, the number of adult smokers nationwide has experienced a steady decrease, even as some studies show that smoking among young people is on the upswing. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 1991, 25.7 percent of adults were regular smokers, down from 41.7 percent in 1955.
Even those who continue to smoke are resigned to restrictions, said Daryl Alexander, a spokeswoman for the American Federation of Teachers.
"People who as little as a year ago may have been very adamant about their rights are taking a new position,'' she said.
A surgeon general's report released in February highlighted schools' role in tackling adolescent tobacco use. (See Education Week, March 9, 1994.)
As well as citing the benefits of reducing exposure to secondhand smoke, proponents of banning smoking by faculty and staff members believe that they provide role models to students, and that they can set a potent example by not lighting up in front of young people.
Some question, however, whether federal legislation was the appropriate means of insuring that schools become smoke-free.
"We support the goal of smoke-free environments for children,'' said Mr. Kealy of the N.S.B.A., "but this is something that local communities could have worked out'' without federal action.
"This kind of policy decision, brought down from on high, is frequently resisted,'' said Jim Bogden, a project associate at the National Association of State Boards of Education. "But if it's done at a local level ... you're more likely to get compliance.''
Mr. Hinson, the Henry County, Tenn., principal, said that some in his district view such bans as an example of "one group of people enforcing their values on another.''
But in Henry County, as in districts around the country, school communities are already working on crafting their own restrictive smoking policies.
Already, 12 states have passed legislation banning smoking in the schools outright. Many state education agencies, districts, and schools have also formulated their own no-smoking policies.
Implementing the federal prohibition in these areas "is not really a
problem,'' said Lea Barrett, the principal of Yazoo City High School in
Yazoo City, Miss. In her district, Ms. Barrett said, a ban is "already
almost phased in.'' Only eight of the 95 adults who work at Yazoo City
High are smokers, she noted.