In June Florida Gov. Rick Scott signed a law to give school boards the authority to designate all district property as tobacco-free. The school board in Hillsborough County, Florida recently decided to continue to allow smoking on school property. Board members decided that as citizens of the United States, we have choices. One of those choices is for them, the board, to stay out of the decision of making all their school properties tobacco-free.
Passing the comprehensive tobacco-free policy would have meant no smoking or using tobacco on all district property, including athletic fields and parking lots. It would have also meant grinding out tobacco use at the maintenance offices and the district administrative headquarters, places where students are rarely visible. Currently, maintenance workers and other employees don’t have the same restrictions because they work away from students. If the new policy would have passed, they would have had to leave campus to use tobacco. It would have “angered a lot of employees,” according to the district transportation director Linda Smith.
Superintendent Bryan Blavatt, a cigar smoker, says he smokes only in his car on his way to district offices. He does not smoke in the designated area behind district headquarters. School board members say those using tobacco on school property obey the policy and stay out of sight, using designated smoking areas. The superintendent said there aren’t designated smoking areas at any of the schools — that he knows of.
Current policy in the district forbids use of tobacco “in any area utilized by students or designated for student activities.” It does not mean that school campuses are totally tobacco-free. According to the article in the St. Petersburg Times, employees are allowed to smoke on school campuses in areas not visible to students, like a loading dock, fenced-in space behind a school, or in their cars. Any place on school property should be considered “visible to students,” especially a parking lot. Smoking outside does not mean the smell stays outside, as it is deposited on clothing and hair. Third-hand smoke is offensive as well as potentially harmful to students with health issues such as asthma and other respiratory illnesses.
It should be noted that Board member Dianne Bonfield, the lone dissenter, argued that the district should go 100 percent tobacco free or at least ban smoking on school campuses. She advocated delaying the enforcement in order to allow employees time to quit. Considering what we now know about the health risks of tobacco, hers was a smart decision. The board did agree to take advantage of the Tobacco Free Hernando Partnership smoking cessation program, including free individual counseling and group classes, and aids such as nicotine patches and gum for those employees wanting to quit. The incentive to quit is difficult when others around you are still using tobacco.
It was up to the School Board of Hillsborough County to make the difficult decision to forbid tobacco use on all school campuses. It would have meant a more productive use of time at work by employees and a healthier work force. Most of all, it would have meant being better role models for all students as well as providing a healthier school environment. It would have angered a lot of people if the school board made Hillsborough County Schools tobacco-free. It was simply not a choice the school board wanted to make.