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No secret, students use tobacco
The Central Kitsap School District is in the midst of updating its tobacco use policy and while already prohibited from being used on school property, some students say smoking or chewing tobacco can be a problem.
"I think it's absolutely disgusting," said Jessica VonScheele, a senior at Klahowya Secondary School.
The current district policy prohibits the possession and use of tobacco products on district property and an update to include nicotine substances as well is on the table.
A revised policy could make an exception for prescription-only nicotine replacement products that are used for tobacco cessation.
The Central Kitsap School Board was expected to hold a "first reading" of the policy at Wednesday's board meeting and the policy could be updated and approved as early as mid-February.
In the 2010-2011 school year there were 61 tobacco-related infractions in the secondary schools. An infraction includes both possession or usage of tobacco products on school property, said David Beil, district spokesman.
The secondary schools include grades 7 to 12, which is made up of the two high schools, Klahowya Secondary School and the three junior high schools in the district.
This school year, there have been 19 tobacco-related incidents. If the rest of the school year's numbers remain consistent with what has already been reported, the numbers would be a decrease from last school year.
"As a historical view, I don't know," said Beil on whether infractions have been decreasing in recent years.
Students caught smoking, chewing or in possession of tobacco, can be suspended from school at minimum for one day and a maximum of 15. The type of suspension could be in-school or out-of-school depending on a case by case basis along with working with the student's family.
During in-school suspension, students would not be in their regular classes but would still have the ability to do school work.
The district is discussing updating its current tobacco policy because of recommendations from the Washington State School Directors' Association's suggested updates to district policies.
VonScheele, 18, said there are some students who are in possession of tobacco products at Klahowya.
"There's definitely a lot of chewing going on," she said.
While there are students who smoke or chew tobacco "respectfully" by not doing it on school campus, VonScheele said she also notices a disregard for the rules.
"They chew and spit on the floor. There's brown all over the floor in some classes," said VonScheele.
While Klahowya is a closed campus meaning that students are not supposed to leave during the school day, VonScheele said there are some students who will drive to the gas station up the street from the school during lunch to go smoke.
Some students will do anything to disrupt education, while others may chew or smoke because it makes them feel cool, said VonScheele. How to reduce the incidents by her peers, VonScheele doesn't know what can be done.
"I have no idea," she said. "I don't know how to draw a solution."
Youth who report themselves as smokers has been decreasing since the state started its Tobacco Prevention and Control Program in 2000, said Tim Church, communications director for the state Department of Health. Since 1999, 12th grade smoking is down 44 percent.
In 2010, the rate for 10th graders who smoke was at 12.7 percent, said Church. This percentage accounts for students who have smoked at least once in the last 30 days. In 1999, the rate for that grade level was at 25 percent.
Since 2002, information has been gathered through the Healthy Youth Survey, a state survey that students voluntarily participate in that ask a range of questions regarding health. The next survey will be given to students next fall with data being released in 2013.
Church said that the department is concerned that smoking rates may rise because of the decrease in funding for tobacco prevention programs. At one time there was about 28 million, including federal money, going toward prevention programs compared to the couple million received now. Other states such as Florida and Massachusetts saw significant decreases in the number of smokers because of aggressive prevention programs but then a rise in rates once money for those programs were gone, said Church.
"We're certainly concerned with where we're at today," he said.
Throughout the years though, the important factor has always been to reach children. Most adult smokers started when they were children, said Church.
"It's really rare for adults to decide to smoke in their 20s," said Church. "It's the kids who start and carry that habit into adulthood."
At Central Kitsap High School, senior Kericho Corry said that he knows there are students who smoke but he hasn't seen it occurring as openly at school recently.
"If they do it, they are going to be secretive about it," he said.
Last school year Corry, 18, said he would park in the junior parking lot west of the school and would sometimes see students smoking there. This school year he hasn't seen one person smoking on campus, but he also added that he doesn't park in that lot anymore.
Corry said students don't seem to be smoking as much anymore or they are going off campus to do it. He added that he could just not be seeing it happening.
Regardless, tobacco use isn't an anomaly in Central Kitsap.
"This will always be a problem every day in a high school," he said.