Smokeless schools

May 27, 1992

Many smokers received their introductory course in the habit in school bathrooms. Come September 1993, even teachers won't be able to escape to school lavatories in Maryland to catch a smoke.

The state Board of Education is weighing a proposal that would ban smoking within all school-owned buildings and outlaw it on school property, outside of the buildings, at least through the school day. Local jurisdictions also could define the school day as a period longer than just 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

The plan is far-reaching in that, if approved, teachers so addicted would be required to kick the habit next year or suffer through smokeless school days come 1993-94. Even with federal figures released last week that showed smoking is more unpopular now than it has been in two generations, it is still surprising that hardly a soul outside the state teachers' union has bucked this suggested bylaw. At a public hearing last week, 32 people signed up to speak for the proposal, including Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke. The lone speaker opposed, Jane Stern of the Maryland State Teachers Association, spoke against it on the grounds that it should be an item for labor negotiations.

Well-known tobacco lobbyist Bruce Bereano opted to skip the hearing. He said his client, the Tobacco Institute, preferred that he lie low on the matter. Seeing the bashing RJR Nabisco has taken for advertising Camel cigarettes with a cartoon dromedary that apparently appeals to children, the institute worried that any opposition would be construed as encouraging kids to smoke, even though this measure covers adults. (Smoking by students in schools was outlawed two years ago.)

School officials say their pending ban follows more clear evidence on the dangers of second-hand smoke ( which hardly applies outdoors) and on the need for teachers to be role models for youth (indoors and outdoors). What may help push this proposal over the top, however, is economics, just as was the case with the state's long-sought motorcycle helmet law. Carroll County Superintendent Ed Shilling, a supporter of the proposal, quotes the state estimate of $35,000 to equip a teacher smoking lounge with proper ventilation devices. More remotely, there's smoking's effect on health and, by extension, insurance premiums.

It is a measure of how far the pendulum has swung against smoking that this bylaw may pass in July with no more protest than some students huddling to sneak a smoke in the bathroom.

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