News and Events

Why School Tobacco Policy Matters
By Tracy DeCubellis, April 28, 2015

The topic of tobacco use in schools has been important for popular culture and academic research throughout the years.  Rock and Roll songs about smoking in school and movies showing rebellious teens smoking on campus are part of public perception about school tobacco use.  Since Brownsville Station observed back in 1973, “everybody knows that smoking ain’t allowed in school,” why does it still happen?  That is what researchers want to know.

School Bus

A recent look at school tobacco policies in Michigan and how they affect student smoking had some interesting results as reported in the Journal of School Health.

There is a statewide initiative in Michigan that encourages schools to create a 24/7 tobacco policy that covers on and off-campus activities and applies to all students, staff, and visitors.  This is similar to the school policy being encouraged in Florida through the Bureau of Tobacco Free Florida.  Using the Michigan Youth Risk Behavior Survey, the researchers looked at data reported by students. They also looked at data from 14 schools using the Michigan School Health Profiles report.  The study also looked at individual and school-based variables that they thought would influence student tobacco use.

The results of the study showed that some school policies are indeed correlated with lower student tobacco use.  The findings suggest that schools should create a school-wide anti-tobacco message and culture.  This could include being sure students know the school tobacco policy, as well as giving students the message only a small percentage of adults actually use tobacco. 

The researchers also suggest that schools should connect with local tobacco prevention programs and share information about community-wide tobacco prevention and cessation to both students and parents. The idea of increasing communication about tobacco rules and prevention programs in the community is to help reframe the social norms about tobacco use for students.  If students perceive tobacco use differently, as an “abnormal” behavior rather than a normal adult behavior, it is believed they will be less likely to use tobacco.

Another interesting result of the Michigan study is the implication that some students may still see tobacco use on campus as a symbol of being rebellious.  The researchers suggest that schools should find ways to communicate tobacco-free messaging to reduce that image since it can be a reason that young people decide to try tobacco – just like the songs and movies imply. 

One way they suggest creating positive tobacco-free messaging is by using students themselves to create that message through school and social media messages.  In Florida, our Students Working Against Tobacco program is working to do that at the local school level, and through statewide campaigns as well.

Although the authors of the Michigan study state that this is a small study that represents the schools in their state, it is interesting to note that their results are in line with the CDC recommendations for reducing youth tobacco use through school policies.
This study may show us that while tobacco policies are important, communication of the policies and the overall school anti-tobacco norms could also be important factors in reducing youth tobacco use.

For further reading:

Centers for Disease Control. (n.d.) Tobacco use prevention through schools. Retrieved from

Paek, H., Hove, T., & Jung Oh, H. (2013). Multilevel analysis of the impact of school-level tobacco policies on adolescent smoking: The case of Michigan. Journal of School Health. 83(10), 679-689.