Tobacco use is the single most preventable cause of death in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Guidelines for School Health Programs to Prevent Tobacco Use and Addiction (2000). Because four out of five people who use tobacco begin before they reach adulthood, tobacco prevention activities should focus on school-age children and adolescents. Evidence suggests that school health programs to prevent tobacco use can be an effective means of preventing tobacco use among youth and can accomplish one of the six National Education Goals. Of seven guidelines recommended to prevent tobacco use among youth, the first guideline focuses on schools prohibiting tobacco use by students, staff, parents and visitors on district grounds, in any facility or vehicle and at all district-sponsored events. The other guidelines include K-12 prevention education, classroom instruction, cessation support, and involvement of parents or families in supporting programs.
The South Carolina Clean Indoor Air Act of 1990 and the Pro-Children Act of 1994 prohibit smoking in any form in all indoor public elementary and secondary schools including preschools, day care centers, library facilities, head start programs and certain healthcare facilities. The local school board has the discretion to make the entire district, including outdoor facilities, smoke-free. Reasons for schools adopting 100 percent tobacco-free policies include the following:
- Schools are responsible for protecting children in their charge from dangerous products. FACT: Tobacco is a product that disables and kills.
- Schools must prohibit drug use in school buildings, on school grounds and at school sponsored events. FACT: Tobacco is a drug.
- Schools must promote health rather than enable addictions. FACT: Tobacco is addictive.
- Schools are responsible for providing a safe environment for students. FACT: Smoking materials and secondhand smoke are dangerous.
- Schools can help “delay the onset” of smoking and significantly reduce the chances that youth will use tobacco regularly. FACT: 90 percent of people who smoke start before the age of 18.
- Schools must send clear, consistent non-use messages. FACT: Allowing tobacco use at school conflicts with prevention messages delivered in the classroom.
- Schools can promote not smoking as the social norm.
- FACT: Perceived social acceptance of tobacco use influences adolescent tobacco use behavior.
- It is import that schools model respect for state laws and community ordinances. FACT: Laws intentionally limit access and possession of tobacco by children.
- School districts would be wise to protect themselves from liability risks. FACT: Schools may face liability issues by allowing smoking on their premises.