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Push for tobacco-free schools on backburner

Jeff Schmucker Hernando Today
Published:   |   Updated: May 7, 2013 at 05:48 PM

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Local anti-drug groups likely won't be pushing to have all school sites become tobacco-free in light of state officials removing the measure from its list of priorities by summer of next year.

Tresa Watson, director of the county's anti-drug coalition, said her bosses have directed her to focus more attention on making apartment complexes and businesses smoke-free than school sites.

She said in the past few years, roughly half of the anti-tobacco groups in the state have been successful in convincing school district officials to go completely tobacco-free, meaning that at no time could staff, parents or 18-year-old students use tobacco products anywhere on campuses.

All but one Hernando County school board member didn't support Watson's proposal last school year to make all school district-owned properties tobacco-free in light of arguments that the restriction would primarily impact maintenance and other nonteaching employees.

"Now it's just not a hot-button issue because the bureau of tobacco didn't say it would be an ongoing project in the coming years," Watson said. "They're more interested in apartment complexes, more businesses being smoke-free and getting retailers to take candy flavored tobacco behind the counters."

With the pressure off of her to push tobacco-free campuses, Watson said it makes it easier to work with the school districts to instead make small changes to tobacco policies.

She added that more focus can be placed on tackling other problems, such as parents tossing cigarette butts onto school property while waiting in the vehicle pickup lane at the end of the day and other issues.

Meanwhile, Watson said she's pleased that another school-level anti-tobacco group, called Students Working Against Tobacco, or SWAT, has been implemented in another school this year, making seven in total.

Other SWAT programs exist in Central and Weeki Wachee high schools, Powell and Fox Chapel middle schools and J.D. Floyd and Winding Waters K-8 schools.

She said the Hernando County Community Anti-Drug Coalition was chosen as one of six groups in the nation to receive grant money to mentor Dixie County as it implements a similar program.

"I think it speaks volumes that the federal government thinks we're doing great things and wants us to set up another anti-drug coalition," Watson said. "I think it's because of all the work our students do in taking a broad range of approaches to tackle drug and alcohol use and sales." (352) 544-5271

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