What is a tobacco-free school district?
A school district that has adopted a tobacco-free schools policy prohibits tobacco use by anyone, anywhere on school district property and in district vehicles at anytime. The policy applies to students, staff, visitors, and all others. This policy also extends to any school-sponsored event held off campus.
Why are tobacco-free schools important?
The health of California’s youth is critical to our state’s future. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 35,000 Californians die from a tobacco-related illness each year. Despite this tragic figure, approximately 9 percent of California youth in ninth grade and approximately 13 percent in eleventh grade reported smoking (California Healthy Kids Survey, Weighted Statewide Data, 2009-2011). Many will become addicted and die prematurely.
Evidence shows that comprehensive school-based programs that include tobacco free policies, combined with community and mass-media efforts, can effectively prevent or postpone the onset of smoking by 20 to 40 percent among U.S. teens. (Surgeon General’s Report “Reducing Tobacco Use,” 2001).
A tobacco-free schools district policy makes schools healthier. And with an alarming rise in asthma rates in recent years, schools must take steps to reduce exposure to second hand smoke that can trigger asthma attacks.
Smoking is already prohibited in our school buildings, so what will be gained by going tobacco-free?
- Exposure to secondhand smoke — even a small amount — is dangerous. As little as 30 minutes of exposure to secondhand smoke can affect the coronary arteries of healthy, young nonsmokers. It causes acute and chronic respiratory disease and causes or exacerbates asthma, ear infections and upper respiratory infections — primary causes of school absence. Tobacco-free schools district policies eliminate the threat of secondhand smoke.
- Adults are role models for students. Without tobacco-free schools district policies, kids receive a mixed message. They are told in class and by their coaches to resist tobacco; yet elsewhere on school property young people may see teachers, peers and visitors using tobacco. Good role models don’t smoke in front of children.
- A tobacco-free schools district policy prepares students for the realities of an increasingly tobacco-free world — one where tobacco use is prohibited at most public places such as worksites, in restaurants, on airplanes, in malls, etc.
- A tobacco-free schools district policy will help establish a tobacco-free norm for our school grounds, which is healthier for everyone — students, school employees and visitors.
How many of California’s school districts are tobacco free?
Currently, all 58 of the county offices of education and over 75 percent of school districts in California are certified as tobacco-free school districts. Less than 10 percent of the direct-funded charter schools in California are certified, but this number is increasing each year. With more than half of California’s schools now 100 percent tobacco-free, momentum is building and this is clearly becoming the standard for schools in all areas of the state.
How do tobacco-free schools district policies affect teachers and staff who use tobacco?
A tobacco-free schools district policy often gives school employees the added motivation needed to cut down their tobacco use or quit altogether.
School districts generally work with voluntary health agencies, hospitals, health departments, employee assistance programs and other community organizations to support those employees who use tobacco and want to quit. A number of school districts provide financial support for employees to attend smoking cessation classes and/or to purchase nicotine replacement therapy.
Will we risk losing our adult supporters at athletic events?
No. There is no evidence to support this claim. In fact, some school districts report just the opposite effect, gaining more attendees who are encouraged by tobacco-free environments.
According to administrators in school districts that have adopted a tobacco-free schools district policy, the vast majority of adults have willingly complied with the policy during athletic events. They recognize that school policies prohibiting tobacco use and alcohol use on campus protect youth safety and offer a positive environment for students and families.
How do we handle the maintenance staff, construction crews and contractors that come on campus and use tobacco?
Much like you would handle compliance with other policies related to use of certain substances on campus (e.g., alcohol) or certain behavior expectations (e.g., non-violence, no firearms). Clearly communicating the policy to firms and companies that contract with the schools is key.
Some employers, including hospitals and government offices, have designated areas for adult tobacco users. Why should school policies be stricter?
Allowing any tobacco use on school campuses is inconsistent with the tobacco-use prevention messages being taught inside the classroom. Schools that are tobacco-free provide the best learning and social environment for students, and a healthier working environment for staff.
Hospitals across California are currently adopting 100 percent tobacco-free policies at a rapid pace and government offices already prohibit smoking within buildings and within 20 feet of entrances to buildings.
What about the argument that it's legal for adults to use tobacco?
Schools have the authority to develop, adopt, and implement policies that are in the best interest of the students and staff. For example, while it’s legal for adults to use other age-restricted products such as alcohol, allowing adults to drink on campus is not in the best interest of students. Therefore, such products are banned on school campuses.
Tobacco is no different – it is a legal product for adults to purchase and use, but not on tobacco-free school campuses and not at school events.
What about e-cigarettes? They do not contain tobacco, and are not "smoked." How do they fit under "tobacco-free" policies?
While e-cigarettes do not contain tobacco and are not smoked in the conventional manner, they may still contain nicotine or be modified to vaporize other liquids containing tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) or other drugs. The use of electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS), such as electronic cigarettes, electronic hookahs, and other vapor emitting devices, with or without nicotine content, which mimics the use of tobacco products, seriously harm schools efforts to prevent tobacco use.
The use of these devices is increasing among adults and youth under the age of eighteen years and encourages tobacco users to violate tobacco-free policies and ordinances. School districts are encouraged to revise their current tobacco-free policies to, at the very least, prohibit the use of ENDS by youth on district property and at school-sponsored events. Sample policies provided by California School Boards Association contain suggested language for this purpose. Districts should also consider adopting language that would prohibit the use of ENDS by all adults on district property and at school-sponsored events similar to policies regarding tobacco products.
Once a school district adopts a tobacco-free schools district policy, how is it implemented?
Early and frequent communication — including prominently placed signage, letters to parents, announcements made during school events and athletic activities — is the key to successful tobacco-free schools district policy compliance. School districts are encouraged to develop local implementation plans.
Who should I contact if I have more questions on tobacco-free schools in California?
John Lagomarsino, School Health Education Consultant
Coordinated School Health and Safety Office
California Department of Education