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Action Steps

Anyone can be the spark that starts the development of a tobacco-free policy. The only necessary ingredients are the passion and desire to make a difference in your school environment and in the health of your community.

Many school districts have used the following steps to guide their efforts as they adopt, enforce, and strengthen their 24/7 tobacco-free policies. Remember, there’s no exact recipe. It’s important to rely on your knowledge of your community and school system as your ultimate guide.

As you work to develop your policy and approach to policy change, frame the policy as a positive step in response to a very serious health problem. By focusing on positive health messages, you can diffuse some of the negative resistance you may receive along the way.

When people are aware of the policy, why it was adopted and what it is intended to do, it is essentially self-enforcing. Communication is the key to enforcing any policy. Signs, announcements, website information, posters, banners, or messages on the school sign marquee are excellent vehicles to help reinforce your message.

1 Put together a “Tobacco-Free School Team”

  • Find people who share your interest in making your school tobacco-free 24/7.
  • Recruit teachers, staff, students, parents, grandparents, healthcare providers, coaches, law enforcement, business leaders, and anyone else that shares your interest in improving the health of the community! Make sure you have a wide representation of community members on this team.

2 Get commitment

  • Inform school administrators that you want to review the district’s existing tobacco policy. Ask for their input, support and cooperation.
  • Meet with your school or school district’s Coordinated School Health Council, Wellness Committee, Safe and Drug Free School Coordinator(s), school nurse(s) or others and get their support.
  • Identify educational, health, and economic reasons for changing the policy.
  • Survey the community on attitudes toward the current school tobacco policy.
  • Identify problems related to the current policy and support for change.

3 Review the current policy

  • Look at the school’s current tobacco policy and determine how strong it is. Does it include vaping?
  • Identify areas where the policy could be improved, strengthened or updated.
  • Does the policy apply to just the student population? Does it cover tobacco use for faculty, staff and visitors as well?
  • Does the policy prohibit all forms of tobacco at all events on/off campus? Including after 4 pm?
  • Review our Model Policy and adjust for your school.
  • Work with your School Health Council or other appropriate school committees throughout the process.
  • Survey faculty, staff and students to determine attitudes toward the current tobacco policy.

4 Develop a draft of the new policy

  • Keep it simple and specific. Avoid any gray areas, which could allow for different explanations of the policy or misunderstanding.
  • Include a reason for the new policy (including the benefits of a strengthened policy).
  • Identify the importance of tobacco use prevention educational programs for students.
  • Identify to whom the policy applies: Students, faculty, staff and visitors.
  • Identify what is included: All forms of tobacco and other nicotine delivery devices (i.e. e-cigarettes, etc.).
  • Identify when the policy applies: During the school day and non-school hours 24/7.
  • Identify where the policy applies: School buildings, grounds, school vehicles, athletic events (on- or off-school property), leased property, etc. Ensure that the policy applies at each of these locations 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
  • Develop a compliance and policy promotion plan to include tactics for promoting the tobacco-free school policy.
  • Determine the consequences for violating the policy.
  • Does the policy prohibit the district from accepting donations of gifts, money, or materials from the tobacco industry or any services paid for by the tobacco industry?
  • Does the policy prohibit wearing clothing or using other items that advertise or promote tobacco products?
  • Does the policy discuss promoting cessation services?
  • Identify a meaningful date—such as the start of the school year—to begin the policy.

5 Present the new policy to the school administrators and board

  • If school administrators have not been a part of your committee, make an appointment to meet with them individually to inform them about your efforts. This meeting will let you describe why tobacco is an issue and the importance of addressing tobacco within your school system, how a tobacco-free school policy will contribute to both students’ and community health improvements, describe the proposed policy and learn about what their position is on tobacco prevention and the proposed policy (does everyone support it, do some support it, or does no one support it?).
  • Determine the process for passing school policies. Many school boards have a policy committee that reviews and takes comments on a proposed policy before it is presented to the full school board.
  • Obtain and submit the necessary forms to get on the school board (or policy committee) agenda.
  • Select a group to present to the school board: students, teachers, parents, athletes, local healthcare providers, and other influential community leaders.
  • Provide a brief handout to board members before the meeting.
  • Develop and rehearse your team’s presentation. A strong presentation includes:
    • Information on the health effects of tobacco from believable medical sources. Doctors can describe secondhand smoke and the relationship of smoking to childhood breathing diseases including asthma.
    • Description of the values and benefits of a policy.Key points of the policy which are provided in a one-sheet handout.
    • Key points of the policy which are provided in a one-sheet handout.
  • Gather support from community members by having them attend the meeting to show that the tobacco-free school effort has broad support. A petition signed by community members can be effective.

6 Plan the implementation and enforcement strategies

  • Set a policy start date which will allow sufficient time for people to prepare for implementation. Many districts have used four weeks as a time frame to inform the public about the new policy before it is actually implemented.
  • Identify education and cessation resources for tobacco violators. Remember, punishment does not solve the problem. Focus on the use of tobacco not on the user.
  • Identify cessation resources available for tobacco users.
  • Prepare for complaints about the new policy and how conflicts will be resolved.
  • Provide training for those who will be involved in enforcement and classroom instruction.
  • Emphasize the need for firm, consistent enforcement.
  • Absolute enforcement expectations will minimize problems.
  • Inform the community about the upcoming policy change. Get excited! Use this announcement as an opportunity to showcase how the policy will improve health!
  • Share that the policy is in the best educational, health and economic interests of all.

7 Communication is the key to enforcing the policy

  • Communicate the policy broadly throughout the school district and community.
  • Include the following information:
    • A description of the new policy and the reasons for change
    • Benefits of a tobacco-free school
    • Who will be affected
    • Implementation date
    • Enforcement procedures
    • How and where to get help with quitting tobacco use.
  • Invite youth groups or student athletes to create and make positive policy compliance announcements over loud-speaker systems at all school-related events, including athletic events, meetings, concerts, plays, etc. Invite influentialcommunity leaders to deliver announcements at community-oriented events.
  • Visibly post tobacco-free signs/decals at all entrances to school buildings, school grounds, parking lots, athletic facilities, and in vehicles. Post signs near high traffic areas or areas that might be likely smoking spots such as restrooms, loading areas, stairwells, and lounges.
  • Place information about the policy in student and staff handbooks.
  • Announce the policy on school sign marquees, parent newsletters, school newspapers, post signs and banners on campus (Hint: check out the free materials available to schools in the print library)
  • Send a letter to parents/guardians explaining the policy changes, giving reasons for the changes and asking for support.
  • Ask students, staff, and community volunteers to assist in distributing informational flyers at school-sponsored events.
  • Put up posters about the South Dakota QuitLine around the school.
  • Write a letter-to-the-editor in the local newspaper explaining the policy and why it was needed, and thanking the school board for its wise decision.
  • Give students and staff the tools they need to enforce the new policy. One school printed up business card-sized handouts saying, “Thank you for respecting our school’s 24/7 TobaccoFree Policy. No tobacco use is permitted in the school, on school grounds or at any school activity—24/7.” These cards were handed out to policy violators.
  • Talk with the local radio station and local newspaper about having an interview with an informed student and/or school staff member on the new policy (someone who worked on the Tobacco-Free School Team would be best).
  • Make sure information is posted on the school website and Facebook page.

8 Implement the policy

  • Recognize that commitment is necessary to insure an effective policy.
  • Expect an initial testing period.
  • Be extra vigilant during the first few months.
  • Encourage students, staff, parents and community members to take pride in the new policy.
  • Get the support of community law enforcement agencies that work sporting events and other events on campus to help enforce the policy.

9 Evaluate the policy

  • Make sure that the policy is working the way that it was intended. Are there any unintended consequences or unanticipated problems as a result of the policy?
  • Use surveys (students, staff, parents, school visitors) and data from violation reports to determine areas that may need to be addressed.
  • For information on how the policy is impacting quit rates, review cessation rogram attendance records or conduct informal interviews with participants or facilitators to identify persons who quit because of the policy.

10 Enforcement

Policy enforcement is essential. The stronger the policy, the greater the public health impact and the easier it is to comply with the rules. The key to success is to keep it simple—100% smoke-free or tobacco-free in all places at all times.

No exemptions means no confusion as to when and where one might be able to smoke. Communication is also a key to your success. Be sure to involve all parties in the public debate about any proposed policy. Once a policy is adopted, clearly post signs on campus, send notices announcing the policy well in advance of the implementation date via employee paystubs, student newspaper, school website, or whatever the current communication sources might be. This ensures that everyone knows why the policy was enacted, what is expected of them to comply, when it will take effect, how to get help if they want to quit smoking, and where to file a complaint if necessary.

Our policy support materials will help reinforce the no smoking/vaping policies in your school. We offer free window clings, door hangers, handouts, and posters to let people know that smoking isn’t allowed on a facility’s premise, in a vehicle, or a home.

Keep exploring the tobacco toolkit