Pubdate: Mon, 07 Oct 2002
Source: Associated Press (Wire)
Copyright: 2002 Associated Press
Author: Greg Giuffrida


VESTAVIA HILLS, Ala. (AP) - Breath mints won't cut it anymore for students
who have been smoking in the bathroom - some schools around the country are
administering urine tests to teenagers to find out whether they have been
using tobacco.

Opponents say such testing violates students' rights and can keep them out
of the extracurricular activities they need to stay on track. But some
advocates say smoking in the boys' room is a ticket to more serious drug

"Some addicted drug users look back to cigarettes as the start of it all,"
said Jeff McAlpin, director of marketing for EDPM, a Birmingham drug-testing

Short of catching them in the act, school officials previously had no way of
proving students had been smoking.

Testing students for drugs has spread in recent years and was given a boost
in June when the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed random testing of those in
extracurricular activities. Tobacco can easily be added to the usual battery
of tests.

"I agree with it," said 16-year-old Vestavia Hills High School junior
Rosemary Stafford, a member of the marching band. "It's illegal, it's
addictive. Maybe the punishment shouldn't be as severe, but they should test
for it."

In Alabama, where the legal age for purchasing and smoking tobacco products
is 19, about a dozen districts, mostly in the Birmingham area, test for
nicotine along with alcohol and several illegal drugs, including marijuana.

In most cases, the penalties for testing positive for cotinine - a metabolic
byproduct that remains in the body after smoking or chewing tobacco - are
the same as those for illegal drugs: The student's parents are notified and
he or she is usually placed on school probation and briefly suspended from
sports or other activities.

Alabama's Hoover school system randomly tested 679 of its 1,500 athletes for
drug use this past school year. Fourteen high school students tested
positive, 12 of them for tobacco.

Elsewhere around the country, schools in Blackford County, Ind., test for
tobacco use in athletes, participants in other extracurricular activities,
and students who take driver's education or apply for parking permits.

In Lockney, Texas, a federal judge recently struck down the district's
testing of all students for the use of drugs, alcohol and tobacco.

In Columbia County, Fla., the school board will vote Tuesday on a testing
policy that would include tobacco. Teenagers who take part in
extracurricular activities or apply for permits to drive to school would be

"Tobacco does and will affect a larger majority of the students than alcohol
or drugs," said Gloria Spizey, the county's coordinator for Safe and
Drug-Free Schools. "Tobacco use can be devastating. We felt it needed to
stand with the other drugs."

Screenings can detect cotinine for up to 10 days in regular smokers of about
a half a pack, or 10 cigarettes, a day, McAlpin said. Experts say it is
unlikely that cotinine would collect in people exposed to secondhand smoke.

"Tobacco is illegal for them to have - it's also a health and safety issue,"
said Phil Hastings, supervisor of safety and alternative education for
schools in Decatur, which recently adopted a testing program that includes
tobacco. "We've got a responsibility to let the kids know the dangers of
tobacco use."

While random drug testing overall is being fought by the American Civil
Liberties Union and students' rights groups, the addition of nicotine
testing has drawn little opposition.

Guidelines published last month by the White House drug office do not
specifically address tobacco testing.

"On tobacco, we have the same policy as on testing for drugs - it may not be
right for every school and community," said Jennifer de Vallance, press
secretary for the office. "We encourage parents and officials to assess the
extent and nature of the tobacco problem."

Shawn Heller, executive director of Students for Sensible Drug Policy in
Washington, said tobacco use by teen-agers is a major problem, but testing
for it is just another step in the invasion of students' privacy.

"We're making schools like prisons," he said.
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