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Smokers Under Siege

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Two recent surveys indicate that schools--like many other sectors of society--are moving toward smokefree environments.

One, conducted by the National School Boards Association, found that 17 percent of public school districts nationwide now ban smoking by faculty, staff, and students. Although not a large percentage, that figure is a dramatic increase from just four years ago, when a similar NSBA study found that only 2 percent of districts had established such policies.

The NSBA is urging school boards to ban adult and student smoking on school property and at school-sponsored functions. "Eliminating smoking in America's public schools is an imperative,'' the organization argues in Smoke-Free Schools: A Progress Report, 1989.

The other survey, conducted by the National Education Association, revealed that prohibitions on student smoking are widespread, with more than 90 percent of the nation's school districts prohibiting it. The union would like to see those prohibitions include teachers as well.

"A lot of systems ban smoking just for students, and then the kids see smoke coming out of the teachers' lounge,'' says James Williams, director of the NEA's Health Information Network in Atlanta. "Schools need to be totally smoke free.''

But it is not enough simply to ban smoking, Williams says. Along with the prohibitions, affiliates should ensure that programs to help teachers kick the habit are offered either at school or in a clinic as part of employeeassistance programs. The union has produced a videotape--featuring a teacher talking about how he beat his addiction--to aid smokers who want to stop.

"We can't support smoking, which is awful for their health,'' he says. "But we can offer assistance for teachers to quit.''

A spokesman for the American Federation of Teachers says the union has no national policy on smoking and prefers to leave the issue up to the discretion of its local affiliates.

Meanwhile, two states have moved to snuff out smoking in schools. Kansas has passed a statewide ban on smoking on all public school property, and lawmakers in Wisconsin will likely vote on a similar measure in their current session.

The prohibitions have some tobacco users feeling like they're under siege. But one smoker, Jim Stork, a high school social studies teacher in Lincoln, Neb., has come up with a unique solution. Shortly after smoking was banned in his school, he spotted a vacant apartment across the street. Now he and more than a dozen other teachers and staff members share the $225 monthly rent on what has become their mid-day smoking refuge.

--Daniel Gursky
Copies of the NEA videotape, "Our World: A Tobacco-Free Environment,'' are available for $15 each from the NEA Video Library, Mercedes Distribution Center, 62 Imlay St., Brooklyn, NY 11231.

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