Tobacco expelled from school grounds
It's fourth down, just seconds left in the game, and the hometown high school football team is two points down. The field-goal kicker has one shot to win the game - and he's your son. Sitting nervously in the grandstand, you reach for the pack of cigarett
Light one up, and you might be breaking the law.
A new state law, approved a year ago, requires local school boards to make and enforce regulations to prohibit smoking anywhere in school buildings or on school grounds. Previous law had applied only to buildings.
In August the state Board of Education proposed revisions to its code that defines school grounds as including "playgrounds and recreational places." The law would also apply to any privately or publicly owned land or facilities when used by a school for academic or extracurriculuar programs.
State board members and anti-smoking advocates have enthusiastically embraced the law.
The New Jersey Department of Health used tobacco-settlement funds to purchase "smoke-free school grounds" signs for every school in the state. County Communities Against Tobacco coalitions have begun distributing them, even holding the occasional press event to publicize the new law.
"We want it to become the norm that people just know not to do it," said Kathy Harvey, Atlantic County coordinator for Communities Against Tobacco, which held a ground-breaking for the signs at the Jordan Road School in Somers Point last week.
Local school officials support the concept, but are less enthused about becoming tobacco police. They hope most people voluntarily cooperate.
Mainland Regional High School in Linwood has had its own no-smoking policy in place for about the last four years. Superintendent Edwin Coyle said voluntary compliance has been excellent.
"We make an announcement at the beginning of sporting events that there is no smoking in the stands, and I would say 99.9 pecent of the time everyone cooperates," Coyle said. "People have thanked us for doing it."
But even he's not happy about trying to enforce a law.
"What if they ignore me?" he said. "Can I call 911 for smoking?"
Greater Egg Harbor Regional has posted the new signs at athletic fields at Oakcrest and Absegami High Schools. Superintendent Adam Pfeffer said he also hopes compliance will be voluntary.
"It would be very difficult to enforce," said Pfeffer. "I've been to the high school games, and smoking is down, but not gone."
Enforcement currently is the role of local Departments of Health, which can take a violator to municipal court if someone reports him. The law calls for fines not to exceed $100.
Atlantic County Division of Health Director Tracye McArdle said only a handful of cases have gone to court since the school-building law went into effect more than a decade ago. She said it is not an easy process.
"There should be local school district procedures in place first, and it can be challenging to get all the documentation you need," she said "But if there is a chronic problem, we will step in."
No-smoking advocates hope that the public pressure of having a law will encourage compliance, and maybe convince more people to quit smoking.
"We've heard complaints from students that teachers just go outside to smoke," said Emma Lopez, Cumberland County Communities Against Tobacco coordinator. "But I think most people will obey a law."
Harvey agreed. "Now it's not just me asking someone not to smoke, it's the law," she said.
There is also still some bureaucratic nit-picking over just what is defined as school grounds. Marianne Kunz of the New Jersey School Boards Association testified before the state Board of Education that under the Department of Education definition, buildings not used for academic purposes, such as transportation or administration buildings, might be excluded from the smoking ban.
"It would seem that one could thwart the prohibition on smoking on school grounds simply by walking into excluded other facilties," she said.
Parking lots are another question, since they are not strictly used for academic or extracurricular purposes.
And there is nothing to prevent someone from simply stepping off school property to light up.
Beyond the potential loopholes, Coyle and Pfeffer said there are still that small number of people who think the law does not apply to them.
"You're not supposed to smoke in school, but smoking in the bathrooms is still a problem," Coyle said.