Schools Going Too Far to End Teen Smoking

Published November 27, 2002

With schools around the world eating our educational lunch, you might think American school officials would have more important things to do than bust high school kids for off-campus cigarette smoking.

But a growing number of school systems, including several in neighboring Alabama, are subjecting students to random nicotine testing, banning tobacco users from extracurricular activities, and proving once again that bureaucratic busybodies seldom know when to say when.

Drug testing in schools has taken off since 1995, when the Supreme Court upheld the testing of student athletes on the rather flimsy basis that sports are voluntary and jocks tend to be role models.

Last spring, the court said schools could test participants in all extracurricular activities, from football to French club. Stressing schools’ “custodial responsibilities,” the court swept aside explicit constitutional protections against unreasonable searches.

Buzzed on the resulting power surge, some administrators now aren’t content just to test students for booze and illegal drugs — substances that can impair learning and threaten student safety. They want to have nicotine testing as well.

The busybodies’ basic take seems to be that since tobacco is unhealthy and schools have the power to test students, schools should use that power to force students not to smoke. But proponents don’t stop there. Desperate to link tobacco to illegal drugs, they claim — absurdly — that cigarettes are a “gateway” to narcotics.

Treating tobacco like an illegal drug doesn’t make sense and teens know it. People don’t overdose on snuff or go to jail for driving while smoking.

The mindless mindset that connects cigarettes with street drugs is the same one that equates an ax in an Eagle Scout’s car with a 9 mm in a skinhead’s backpack.

Cigarettes and smokeless tobacco present serious health risks, and schools should educate students on the dangers. Ultimately, though, parents should police off-campus smoking, not school officials.

Good public policy requires a healthy sense of limits, and Georgia educators have, commendably, not yet followed our Alabama neighbors over the tobacco-testing cliff. We should insist they don’t.

Luke Boggs is a corporate speechwriter living in Alpharetta.