Clearing the Smoke in Harford

May 28, 1993

Harford County's move to completely ban tobacco from school property, including cars and the football bleachers, at all times by everyone sends a clear (but overdue) message that this product is harmful to the user and to those forced to endure the second-hand smoke.

The grave medical evidence of tobacco's injury to the human body is overwhelming. Education about its dangers is as important as the lessons about alcohol and drug abuse. You can't honestly preach about tobacco's harm when the pungent whiff of nicotine smoke is wafting across the schoolyard or from the "permitted" smoking area.

It's not a matter of respect for smokers' rights or negotiated work rules for teachers and other employees. It's a question of effective education about a matter of life and death. Schools don't allow drugs and alcohol; they shouldn't permit use of tobacco, either. (If these substances continue to be used/abused outside the school grounds, that's a matter of education for the rest of society.)

The Harford school board's decision, effective July 1, is the farthest reaching of any anti-tobacco policies adopted in Maryland. It would be tempting to describe the action as bold. Unfortunately, this policy should have been implemented years ago, in all school systems. As much as the Harford school board deserves credit, other systems share the discredit for not acting as decisively.

The local policy applies to everyone, even contractor employees, visitors, organizations using school grounds. And it provides penalties for noncompliance, such as barring use of the property.

Smoking by students on school property has been banned for several years. This year, employees and visitors were allowed to smoke in outside designated areas. So, extending the ban to everyone on all property, at all hours of day, makes the rule easier to enforce, board members explained.

We recognize that many persons continue to smoke, chew and sniff tobacco. It is an addiction that is frowned upon yet sanctioned by government, despite the demonstrated health effects.

Society's pressures to stop smoking by restrictions have already played a part in persuading some persistent smokers to finally give up the habit. Perhaps the Harford school system decision will push more tobacco addicts to make that healthful decision. And we hope it will deter more youngsters from starting down the path to lung and mouth cancer, heart attack, emphysema and other ailments directly linked to tobacco.

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