BRADENTON -- Manatee County teachers could find themselves without a smoke break if Superintendent Rick Mills gets the district to adopt one of the most comprehensive school tobacco policies in Florida.
Mills said Friday during his first CEO Roundtable Meeting that he supports incorporating 12 components of a comprehensive school tobacco policy recommended by Health People 2020 Objectives on Tobacco Use. Manatee County already has adopted four of those components. If it passes, Manatee County would join 14 other counties in putting all 12 policies in place.
"I hope to go back and look at our policies that have the four components and move forward with introducing the other policies," Mills said.
Mills said he has a draft policy completed and will have his staff reach out to the other Florida counties with comprehensive tobacco policies to see how they implemented them. Following the research, the draft plan would be posted by Manatee County Schools for public feedback, he said.
Manatee County Schools' components includes a general tobacco use policy,
specifically names tobacco in its policy, is in effect 24 hours a day throughout the year, and students are prohibited from having tobacco on school grounds or at school events, even if the events are not on district property.
Manatee County teachers are not allowed to smoke in areas on campus that are visible or accessible to students. But teens typically know what happens on the other side of those walls, or can smell the cigarette smoke on their teachers when they return from break, said Jessica May, a health educator for the Manatee County Health Department's Tobacco Free Manatee program.
May said her agency wants to see all school campuses become tobacco-free zones.
The Manatee Education Association does not have an official position yet on taking away teachers' rights to smoke at school, said Patricia Barber, president of the teachers union.
"We're certainly open to discussing all issues," she said.
The school district also wants to challenge the prevalence of candy-flavored cigars, snuff, chewing tobacco and spitless packets, as well as the electronic/vapor cigarettes. Ninety percent of tobacco users begin before they turn 18, according to Centers of Disease Control and Prevention.
One product May showed to the roundtable was a product called Camel Snus in a frost flavor, which could easily go undetected by parents and teachers as a tobacco product because of the small, pocket-size container and how the students consume it.
"Inside the schools, the students are using this without the staff knowing about it," May said. "What's happening is the teacher says to the student, 'I see you're chewing gum. Can you go and spit that out?' So, the student walks over to the trash can and spits it out and all the while it's this tobacco product."
May added that a pack-a-day smoker wouldn't go through a regular tin of Snus for the day, but students are susceptible to popping more packets than they should consume.
Manatee County Government, Bradenton and Palmetto all have resolutions to restrict the sale of candy-flavored tobacco. The Health Department is trying to get as many resolutions signed to send to state lawmakers to pass a statewide ban of the sale of the products, May said.
Not enough data is available on the use and effects of the electronic cigarettes because they are so new, but the Health Department discourages the use of the products because they contain nicotine, said Megan Jourdan, a spokeswoman for the Health Department.
The school systemcould specifically mention the ban of electronic cigarettes in its tobacco-free policy, Jourdan said.
The remaining components of the tobacco policy include:
School buildings, grounds, property (in-cluding vehicles and buses) are tobacco-free at all times
Banning visitors from using tobacco products on school grounds and at school events
Ban clothes that advertise or promote tobacco products
Prohibiting gifts, advertising and curriculum from tobacco companies
Plan to communicate the policy to all students, employees and visitors
Outline an enforcement plan
Provide cessation resources in the enforcement plan for students and staff.
Charles Schelle, business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7095. Follow him on Twitter @ImYourChuck.