Implementing Tobacco-Free Policies
The strongest action that can be taken by a school to ensure that its students are not addicted to tobacco is to implement a comprehensive tobacco-free campus policy. Such a policy, when it is applied fairly and consistently, can help students decide not to use tobacco and helps reduce the number of youth who do use tobacco.
A comprehensive approach should frame commercial tobacco and vape use as not simply a school discipline problem. A comprehensive approach should frame the issue more broadly as a serious lifelong health and personal wellness issue that must be addressed by the entire education system with the support of the community. Adoption of a comprehensive policy also sends a clear message to students, staff, parents and the community that school leaders are concerned about the health of their students and consider tobacco use a serious issue.
Building these partnerships does not have to be difficult. Your school already has lots of ties with community groups and organizations as well as groups within the school that can all work together to support tobacco-free campuses including:
- Parent-teacher associations
- Coaches & sports programs
- Student government
- Student activity groups
- School health councils & nurses
- Faith-based organizations & churches
- Hospitals and other healthcare providers
- Law enforcement
- Local government
Benefits of Tobacco-Free School Policy
Schools play an essential role in communicating with young people and provide a powerful environment for promoting the importance of living a tobacco-free life. Additionally schools:
- Provide positive role modeling by adult employees and visitors
- Reduce youth belief that tobacco use is a normal behavior
- Support prevention messages delivered in classrooms by sending clear, consistent non-use messages
- Protect children from a dangerous drug that can quickly turn into a powerful addiction
- Provide a safe environment for students, staff and visitors by reducing exposure to secondhand smoke
- Protect themselves from unnecessary risk of liability by prohibiting tobacco use on school grounds
- Reduce the risk of fires from smoking materials
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Best Practices in Youth Engagement Guide outlines how youth can be powerful partners in the fight against pro-tobacco industry influences. Here are a few examples of how youth can be very powerful agents of change:
Rally the troops
Youth are better at getting their friends involved than adults are. Youth involvement adds important strength to tobacco control policy efforts and broadens where messages are heard.
Young people get involved with tobacco control efforts for many of the same reasons adults do. Some have family members who have died from tobacco-related causes, others are victims of diseases caused by secondhand smoke such as asthma and some are angry about how the tobacco industry has targeted them for addiction. As a result of strong education efforts, many young people have learned about the negative effects of tobacco use and have become champions for change in their communities.
Youth can provide an important view into what their peers are thinking and what they want. Involving youth in these efforts ensures the design of policies and programs that work for their generation.
Young people naturally challenge adult attitudes. This adds creativity to any program, making it more attractive to other youth as well as policymakers. Their unique ideas for ways to support policy change help push efforts forward.
Promote policy change
Young people can be effective at building support for policy development and change. Youth capture the attention of political leaders and the media, making them important partners in policy advocacy.
Youth have credibility with peers and community members. This helps them educate the community to reduce pro-tobacco influences and increase pro-health norms and behaviors.
Expose tobacco industry tactics
Young people can be effective partners in the fight against the tobacco industry by exposing its tricky and deceitful tactics.
Bring energy & strength
Youth bring energy to activities and events. Schools should work to channel this energy into action, resulting in increased awareness about tobacco and policy change.
Reflect genuine concern
Youth generally volunteer their time to be involved in tobacco control efforts. They do this because of the stake they have in their own future.