By Anna-Marie Menhenott
ST. LUCIE COUNTY -- The School Board of St. Lucie County has passed a policy to maintain a tobacco free environment on all school properties and at all school events held off campus during normal and non-school hours 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and 365 days a year.
While smoking has been banned inside school buildings, not all school districts in Florida restrict smoking and tobacco use on all of their properties or at their events. In June 2011, Gov. Rick Scott signed a law amending the Florida Clean Indoor Air Act to give school boards the authority to designate all district property as tobacco free.
"The recently adopted Tobacco Free policy truly sends a message to our community that schools care about the health and safety of staff and students" said Mrs. Boyle, teacher and Students Working Against Tobacco Advisor at St. Lucie West Centennial High School. "And it definitely helps to make our SWAT students feel supported and validated in their efforts to educate schools about tobacco use."
In St. Lucie County, according to the 2012 Florida Youth Tobacco Survey, seven percent of middle school students and 16 percent of high school students were reported as current tobacco users, meaning they reported using some form of tobacco in the past 30 days.
"Our Tobacco Free Partnership and Students Working Against Tobacco have made tremendous strides in reducing tobacco use, implementing policy change, and preventing youth from becoming addicted to this deadly product through the deceptive tactics Big Tobacco uses to capture its next victims. Tobacco use is still the greatest single cause of preventable disease and death" said Larry Lee, county health officer.
The Tobacco Free Partnership of St. Lucie County, together with the Florida Department of Health's Tobacco Free Florida program and local SWAT chapters, have been working to strengthen policies to restrict tobacco use on school properties and at school events.
These policies are put in place to help create a safer environment for our children and reduce the risk of exposure to secondhand smoke. By restricting the use of tobacco on school properties and at school events, St. Lucie County School District is sending a clear message that the health and well-being of students and employees is a priority.
De-normalizing tobacco use in the schools through positive role modeling is extremely valuable. When students do not see their teachers, coaches, school faculty, parents, and visitors using tobacco, they will be less likely to think it is acceptable to start using.
Preventing tobacco use is key in the fight against tobacco, the leading cause of preventable death in the state. More than 18,900 children (under 18) in Florida become new cigarette smokers each year. Current data suggests that 369,000 Florida children, now under the age of 18, will ultimately die prematurely from their own smoking or from secondhand smoke.
For more information, visit tobaccofreeflorida.com/schools.