February 14, 1997 in City

The Real Issue Is Reaching Kids Be Tolerant Let’s Not Drive Kids Away.

Anne Windishar Editorial Writer

There’s no question smoking is bad.

It’s an expensive, addictive and deadly habit. Plus, it stinks.

But what smells worse is a move by the Washington Legislature to close a loophole that allows smoking on school grounds if an alternative program exists there. The change would work against the best intentions of educators statewide.

Granted, it seems contradictory to allow young people to smoke on school grounds when it’s illegal for them to buy cigarettes in the first place. And it doesn’t quite make sense to let them light up under the watchful eyes of the principal when research indicates that young people are more susceptible to addiction than they would be if they started smoking when they’re older.

But legislators must look at the broader picture before slamming an authoritative door on smoking around schools. What looks like glaring hypocrisy actually is grudging concession.

Educators know that stiff no-smoking laws mean kids will miss school. They’ll be late, skip classes or simply not go to school at all - and those are the students in regular school programs. Kids in alternative programs have an especially tough time making it to school - some are parents, some are at risk of suicide, others are victims of abuse. Expecting them to drop a highly addictive habit cold-turkey is expecting too much.

The top concern should be keeping kids in school - particularly the dropout risks. At Spokane’s Havermale Alternative Center, administrators estimate 70 percent to 90 percent of the kids smoke - the smoking section there isn’t an enticement, but its absence certainly would be an attendance deterrent. Still, you don’t find Havermale administrators turning a blind eye to smoking issues; instead, the school offers smoking cessation classes.

Legislators surely will hear howls of complaints when their ban goes into effect and kids start crossing the street to smoke in front of grandma’s house. High schools, by and large, are located in neighborhoods, and the people who live there don’t want crowds of kids puffing away by their homes.

So, no, it’s not a perfect solution, but the 1991 law that bans smoking on school grounds but allows for exceptions for schools with alternative programs is good enough. It sends a strong message that smoking is wrong, but it also makes allowance for the reality educators face.

, DataTimes MEMO: For opposing view, see headline: The law says don’t and it means don’t

The following fields overflowed: SUPCAT = COLUMN, EDITORIAL - From both sides

For opposing view, see headline: The law says don’t and it means don’t

The following fields overflowed: SUPCAT = COLUMN, EDITORIAL - From both sides

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