Education Prevents Students From Smoking

By Del Stover

As part of this year’s annual Kick Butts Day at Van Buren High School, students collected every cigarette butt strewn across the school campus -- and reported their count to the school board. The good news: It was the smallest collection of tobacco products gathered since the annual event began.

“The first year we had very large, multiple Ziplock bags filled,” says Heidi Bainbridge, a school district employee who serves as director of the county’s drug-free communities project. “Last year we had one large bag full. This year, we had very few cigarette butts to pick up.”

The trend suggests the comprehensive tobacco-free policy adopted by the Van Buren Community Schools in Keosauqua, Iowa, is having an impact. Fewer students, staff members, and visitors are bringing cigarettes and other tobacco products onto school grounds. Officials hope they’re getting the message that smoking or chewing tobacco isn’t an acceptable practice.

It’s a message that should be widely accepted, given that the U.S. Surgeon General first declared smoking a health hazard nearly half a century ago. But school policymakers who believe they’re doing enough to keep students away from tobacco -- by banning cigarettes in schools and providing anti-smoking lessons in health classes -- are mistaken.

“The biggest problem we face in tobacco control today is that people think this problem already is solved,” says Karen Lewis, NSBA’s project director for tobacco prevention. “School board members are not the typical demographic that smokes or is exposed to a great deal of cigarette marketing, and if they were to guess at the prevalence of smoking, they’d likely guess low.”

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