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Tobacco Free Partnership Recommends Strengthening Tobacco Free School Policy
December 16, 2020

The Tobacco Free Partnership (TFP) of Levy County and Levy Students Working Against Tobacco (SWAT) members have been working hard to address the tobacco industry’s influence on teens, the rapid rise of Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems (ENDS) popularity among youth in schools, and to educate community members and decision makers about the importance of passing tobacco free policies which include ENDS. One of the goals of the TFP and SWAT this year is to support the tobacco free school policy, as student usage of ENDS has increased on all school campuses. So, this quarter, the Partnership reviewed Levy’s Tobacco Free Schools policy with the Assistant Superintendent and the Statewide Tobacco Policy Manager for the Florida Department of Health’s Bureau of Tobacco Free Florida.

In 2012, the School Board of Levy County (SBLC) passed a tobacco free policy that reads, “All uses of tobacco products in any form are prohibited in any district-owned facility, property, or vehicle at any time.” The policy was amended in 2014 to include “synthetic tobacco and use of electronic cigarettes.” In 2018, the Tobacco Free Partnership provided updated signs for the school district to help communicate the tobacco free policy and included vaping in the language on the signs. In 2019, the School Wellness Policy language was updated to read, “Goals to maintain a school and worksite environment that is free from tobacco, Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems, alcohol, and other drugs.”

Although the policy as written is sufficient, there are some areas where improvements were identified that can provide clarification on the policy and strengthen it to keep up with constantly changing tobacco control issues, support staff and students’ need for referral to cessation services, address new and emerging tobacco products, and incorporate the most up-to-date Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommendations for model tobacco free policies.

Specifically, although components of a model policy are mentioned in the Student Code of Conduct and Employee Handbook to some extent, the actual School Board Tobacco Free Policy for Tobacco Use in District Facilities could be more robust. For example, by including a rationale and purpose for the policy; clearly defined key terms, such as “tobacco” and “tobacco use;” and a plan for communication of the policy to students, staff, and visitors.

Due to the progressively higher number of students getting caught using ENDS on campus, the partnership and SWAT are concerned that students’ test scores will be affected due to the missed class time associated with in-school and out-of-school suspension, as well as their newfound addiction to nicotine, whose withdrawal symptoms can make concentration and attention difficult for teens.

Therefore, the partnership recommends that the district also revise the enforcement procedures for student violations to prioritize cessation support, utilize educational options and behavioral health support, and only employ exclusionary discipline, such as suspension, as a last resort. Additionally, clear disciplinary procedures for students, employees, and visitors who violate the policy should be established and it should be clearly stated that students and staff who violate the policy will be notified of available (and age-appropriate) cessation resources and encouraged to use them.

Finally, to be fully comprehensive in scope, the policy ideally would allow for narrow exceptions that protect a staff member’s ability to possess and use tobacco cessation medications on district property and allow for the use of tobacco products for tobacco prevention education (without consumption).

Overall, these suggested policy changes would help the School Board of Levy County address tobacco and nicotine use on campus in a more consistent manner and provide the necessary support for youth and adult tobacco cessation, while utilizing a more holistic approach to addressing the root of the tobacco problem on campus, which is significant youth addiction to nicotine due to the tobacco industry’s marketing tactics and products that are enticing, flavorful, easily obtained, and discreet.

The Partnership is looking forward to working with the new Superintendent of Schools and the School Board soon to review and update the tobacco free school policy, as community partners in helping to keep Levy youth healthy and free from addiction.

If you would like more information about the Tobacco Free Partnership of Levy County or would like to get involved, please reach out to us at info@TFP-Levy.org or find us on Facebook @Tobacco Free Partnership of Levy County.