No butts about it;Mind amp; body

29th May 1998 at 01:00
'We have the right,' says one side. 'Not in our airspace,' says the other. Little divides a staffroom more than the evil weed...Lynne Wallis reports on smoking policies in schools

Remember the day you were caught smoking behind the bikesheds? The inevitable punishment was usually meted out from a staffroom shrouded in a pall of cigarette smoke. Don't do it, it's bad for you, they told us, before falling on a packet of Bensons in the privacy of their own room.

Non-smoking policies in the workplace were a rarity until the mid-1980s; lone protesters were on a hiding to nothing in their attempts to discourage smokers from lighting up at work. Now, most schools have such policies, although there are still some where teachers who want to smoke, can - although if this is not in a separate area, it can be a cause of much angst.

Elizabeth Osborne, now in her sixties, retired a few years ago after a career which became blighted by the staffroom smokingnon-smoking debate.

She had worked at Dulwich Hamlet primary school in south London for 20 years and gave up smoking when doctors diagnosed a heart condition. "All the staff smoked, except me and one other. After I stopped, I found it so unpleasant I started to open windows. Of course, in winter they complained about the cold. They would say 'we have a right to smoke - it's our room'. It was foul.

"I was intolerant, I admit it. But why should I suffer their smoke if it makes me feel ill? After teaching, I'd be tired and want to relax -Jbut there was nowhere for me to go. It made me very unpopular, and the whole atmosphere was stand-up-rowish."

Mrs Osborne eventually resigned, partly due to her colleagues' unwillingness to compromise about smoking. She found another job at a small church school, but the problems were the same: one staffroom, too many smokers.

Ten years ago, the health risks of passive smoking began to make the headlines and the threat of claims from non-smokers began to worry employers.

Five years ago, Birmingham's education department implemented a non-smoking policy covering all of its 450 schools (including staffrooms). Joe Harvey of Birmingham's health education unit and co-author of Smoking in Schools, says although the risks of passive smoking were recognised, there was no policy for schools. "Staff smoked in the staffroom while kids were punished for it. We took a long hard look at the problem and set up a policy which has effectively banned smoking, except in specially-designated areas."

Some Birmingham schools provide staff smoking rooms; others have adopted blanket bans. Nationally, 94 per cent of all schools and colleges have smoking policies - although only 77 per cent are effective, according to Department of Environment research.

A spokeswoman from the Health Education Authority says the discrepancy means either smoking rooms aren't signposted properly, ventilation is inadequate, or non-smoking agreements aren't enforced - "so people willsay, 'we're not meant to smoke in here but everyone does'."

Martin Ball, a spokesman for FOREST (The Freedom Organisation for the Right to Enjoy Smoking Tobacco) says the fact there are underage people on school premises who are not allowed to be sold tobacco is no reason to curtail or restrict the liberty of the (legitimate) consumer.

He believes that teachers are only one role model for children. To follow the argument that they should set an example through to its logical conclusion, you would have to ban parents from smoking - "and everyone else in society who may influence kids".

A Department of Health survey of 500 11 to 15-year-olds earlier this year showed that 96 per cent of the teenagers did not believe that seeing celebrities and pop stars smoke would make them want to start. But which rebellious teenager would ever admit to having his or her behaviour moulded by someone else?

Martin Ball is adamant the results are realistic. "If a glamorous pop singer can't mould the opinions of young people, what chance does a fuddy-duddy maths teacher have?" The staffroom at Crown Woods secondary, in Eltham, south-east London, has an annexe for smokers which has extractor fans fitted. It's a separate room which children can't get into or see from the corridor. Deputy headteacher Margaret Ould says about 20 of her 120 staff smoke, although more young members are beginning to light up.

ASH (Action on Smoking and Health) says there are almost as many young people taking up smoking as there are quitting - partly due, it says, to aggressive marketing campaigns which target them.

David Parker, a former teacher and FOREST member, says his most recent employers banished him from the building if he lit his pipe - although he claims not to have minded. "No one else smoked, so it seemed reasonable."

He previously taught at a comprehensive where smokers had an annexe to the staffroom. "Our policy at FOREST isn't that non-smokers should be compelled to suck in everyone's smoke," he says, "but that there should be a choice for both smokers and non-smokers."

ASH would take issue with the contention that children make up their own minds whether or not to smoke, but given that children of parents who smoke are three times more likely to take up the habit than those whose parents don't smoke, it is at the very least debatable.

Meanwhile, the acrimony rages in some schools, and until local education authorities draw up smoking policies for schools which are actually implemented, the question of whether teachers have a right to smoke or not remains a clouded one.


* About 450 children take up smoking every day.

* Despite a ban on television cigarette advertising, half of pupils claim to have seen cigarette ads on TV in the past six months.

* Research has shown that the top cigarette brands smoked by children are also the ones most heavily advertised.

* Teenage smokers experience more asthma and respiratory problems, suffer poorer health, have more school absences and are less fit. (source Health Education Authority research) * About 330 people die prematurely from a smoking-related disease every day.

* The younger a smoker is when he or she starts, the more likely he or she is to suffer a smoking-related illness. A smoker who starts at 15 is three times more likely to die from lung cancer than someone who starts in their mid-twenties.

* Tobacco smoking is the single most important avoidable cause of chronic ill health in the UK.

* Avoiding smoking would prevent a third of all UK cancer deaths * Tobacco is the only legally available consumer product which kills people when it is used entirely as intended.

* It is now recognised that long-term exposure to environmental tobacco smoke is a cause of lung cancer.

* Only 15 per cent of the smoke from one cigarette is inhaled by the smoker; the rest is dispersed into the atmosphere.

* The workplace is a source of exposure to tobacco smoke for almost one-third of adults.

* Almost half of all children in Britain live in households with at least one smoker.

* Non-smokers exposed to tobacco smoke over a lifetime stand a 10 to 30 per cent increased risk of contracting lung cancer.

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