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September 2019
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School smoking ban: One vice as bad as the other

     The board of education last week banned smoking on all of its campuses and athletic fields, saying kids don’t need to see adults and role models around them practicing such a harmful vice. That’s true.
      Indisputable studies define the link between cancer and smoking. Each year in the United States, some 443,000 people die, because of issues related to cigarette smoking––that’s according to the Centers for Disease Control.
      Smoking is bad for us. If you don’t know that, you’ve been living in denial since 1950, the year the first major study showed the link between smoking and lung cancer. It is estimated that in that same year more than half of the U.S. population smoked. Today the number has dropped. Just 19.8 percent of Americans light up. Enormous public pressure has reduced smoking in the United States over the past decade.
      The school board is jumping late onto this bandwagon and playing it safe in its choice of which health problem to address. Smokers already are outlawed or at least vilified in public spaces across the country. With the exception of two school board members, few defend smoker rights.
      But if the school board sees itself as needing to set a role model standard, here’s something else to chew on, if you’ll pardon the pun.
     Hasn’t the school board bugled the attack on one vice while turning a blind eye to a more pressing health problem: obesity?       
      Smoking is a bad habit for students and adults, and the board is right to discourage it, but the policy is not a courageous stand. If the board really wants to show it is serious about influencing the community, how about some attention to diet, exercise, plus healthy food and drink choices?
      In 2012 our most pressing health challenge is obesity, particularly for the youngest students. During the past 20 years, a dramatic obesity increase has bulged in the United States with more than one-third of adults (some 35%) tipping the scales in the obese range. The obesity rates among adults and children, even children as young as toddlers, are staggeringly high. And the South and the Appalachians rank as the worst of the worst, according to a recent study published by the CDC.
      But when the state started to address student obesity with mandatory weigh-ins last year, local administration officials and board members either decried the move as an intrusion of government into private lives or remained silent.
      It seems our board would rather choose an easy target like smoking, ignoring the at-the-moment more serious health bomb obesity poses. Far better for the board to battle against extra calories––changing bake sales to fresh apple sales––or forcing teachers to offer something besides soft drinks, cookies and ice cream at school parties. But that would take some serious political courage. Look at the reaction when other public agencies tried to limit portion size.
With studies piling up to show our health is at serious risk because of our eating habits, perhaps the board should crack the whip on what booster clubs sell from campus concession stands. And yes, we are talking about those beloved nachos, those deliciously bad corn chips with melted fake cheese that boast a whopping 1,100 calories plus 60 grams of fat.
     Obesity-related maladies include heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer, some of the leading causes of preventable death. In 2008, according to the CDC, medical costs associated with obesity were estimated at $147 billion. The latest study by the CDC shows the South has the highest prevalence of obesity, more than any other part of the country, though it’s doubtful northern concession stands sell anything much different from what ours sell.    
We’re not asking that school concession stands start stocking only organic Granny Smith apples, but if the school board wants to convert our school system into a role model for healthy living, it cannot just throw its weight around against an already maligned group of smokers while ignoring a worse problem for students.