King County Surveys Tobacco Policies Across School Districts

Communities Count   (Seattle)

February 2015

Eight out of 10 smokers start smoking before they turn age 18. Although Washington state law requires each school district to have a written policy prohibiting the use of all tobacco products on public school property, the mandated policy requirements are vague.  Public Health – Seattle & King County recently examined tobacco- and nicotine-related school district policies of all 19 school districts in King County, Washington where, in 2012, around 12,000 school-age children used some form of tobacco.   

While district policies covered both smoked and smokeless tobacco and followed minimum state law requirements in most areas, almost 30% of districts had not yet caught up with the burgeoning popularity of electronic smoking devices (“e-cigarettes”) on and off campus and in district vehicles.  Results of the most recent Healthy Youth Survey confirm that this is a serious issue:  Among King County 12th graders, the use of e-cigarettes or “vaping” (inhalation of vaporized flavored nicotine via a small atomizer) increased from 3% of students in 2012 to 21.7% in 2014.

Districts do appear to address student tobacco use as an addictive behavior by requiring tobacco prevention education for all students and allowing for “alternatives to suspension” (ATS) as a way to support students’ efforts to quit, with nearly all districts having such a policy.

The language in school districts’ tobacco/nicotine policies, sanctions for policy violation, and specifications of places where tobacco use is prohibited vary considerably across King County. Some policies are fairly simple; others are more comprehensive.  Recognizing that implementation may differ from policy language, qualitative assessment would be needed to discover a) how policies are implemented in individual districts and schools, b) how uniformly policies are applied among student populations, and c) how effective ATS policy is as a vehicle for decreasing King County student tobacco use.

Link to report, Tobacco Policies in King County School Districts, at PHSKC>Data and Reports.