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Hawkins BOE member wants tobacco free policy strictly enforced at games

July 13th, 2014 11:29 am by Jeff Bobo

Hawkins BOE member wants tobacco free policy strictly enforced at games

ROGERSVILLE — An amendment to the Hawkins County Board of Education's "Tobacco Free Schools" policy banning "vapors" used as tobacco substitutes was withdrawn from consideration Thursday for further study.

The question didn't pertain to vapors, but instead to what extent a school-wide tobacco ban is enforced at sporting events and other school events — especially chewing tobacco in the seating areas of sporting events.

During Thursday's discussion board member Bob Larkins noted that aspects of the existing policy seem to contradict themselves.

On the one hand, the BOE's "Tobacco Free Schools" policy states that signs will be posted throughout the district's facilities notifying students, employees and visitors that the use of tobacco and tobacco products is strictly forbidden.

But, the Tobacco Free Schools policy also states smoking is prohibited by law in seating areas and in restrooms at outdoor sporting events, and signs stating that are posted at ticket booths. Those signs don't mention banning other types of tobacco, including chew.

Anyone who regularly attends outdoor Hawkins County school sporting events knows that tobacco chewing is fairly common among adults, and isn't unheard of among students.

"If we are a tobacco free district, then why would we just say smoking is prohibited (at sporting events). Would it not be all tobacco usage on our signage?"

Larkins also ask how the policy is enforced.

Director of Schools Steve Starnes admitted that state law and school policy are contradictory.

State law prohibits smoking in seating areas of school sporting events and restrooms, but state law doesn't prohibit adults from chewing tobacco at those same events. School policy prohibits all tobacco use on campus, even though signs at ticket booths only address smoking.

"(State Law) allows a designated area away from seating areas and away from restrooms where people can (smoke) at outdoor sporting events," Starnes said. "If somebody comes to a football game, for example, and they were smoking within the seating area, because it's a violation of Tennessee state law we would go get an SRO or a police officer on duty at the game, and they would enforce that state law."

A principal can ask a person to leave if they are chewing tobacco, but smokeless tobacco isn't against the law in seating areas of sporting events. And apparently, it's not strictly enforced.

Carters Valley Elementary SRO Matt Johnson, who attended Thursday's BOE meeting, said that when officers work football games, trying to enforce a tobacco ban is a "nightmare" — especially stopping people who chew.

Johnson said too many people are chewing at games, and teachers and school staff who are working the games are often among the culprits.

"My question is, how aggressive do you want your SROs and other deputies to be toward this certain issue," Johnson asked the board. "If I just go after everybody we won't have anyone at the game."

Larkins asked why have a policy if they're not going to enforce it.

Larkins added, "If we're truly a tobacco free district, then I think we ought to be consistent in the enforcement, and not handpick smokers over anyone else. I'm neither one, so I'm not advocating for either one, I think it's going to be difficult to enforce if we have a different standard for one over the other."

Larkins said he wants signs posted at ticket booths stating all tobacco is banned.

Board member Debbie Shedden asked that the tobacco policy withdrawn from consideration Thursday for further study, and discussed again at next month's meeting.

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