Pubdate: Tue, 08 Oct 2002
Source: Seattle Times (WA)
Copyright: 2002 The Seattle Times Company
Author: Greg Giuffrida, Associated Press
Bookmark: (Drug Testing)


VESTAVIA HILLS, Ala. - 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 is a ticket to more serious drug use.

"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 company.

Short of catching them in the act, school officials previously had no way 
of proving that 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 Rosemary Stafford, 16, a junior at Vestavia Hills 
High School and 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."

Shawn Heller, executive director of Students for Sensible Drug Policy in 
Washington, acknowledged that tobacco use by teenagers is a major problem 
but said testing for it is just another step in the invasion of students' 

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

In Alabama, where the legal age for purchasing and using tobacco products 
is 19, about a dozen school districts 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.

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 today 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 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.
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