Pubdate: Tue, 08 Oct 2002
Source: Bakersfield Californian, The (CA)
Copyright: 2002, The Bakersfield Californian
Bookmark: (Youth)
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 teen-agers to find out whether they have been 
using tobacco.

But do such tests violate a person's right to privacy? Or are they just 
another way to keep students from illegal activity and on the straight and 

Those are questions being asked at school districts nationwide.

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 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 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.

The Kern High School District has no drug or tobacco testing, said Director 
of Pupil Personnel Services Lee Vasquez. He said students can be 
disciplined for being in possession of or using tobacco including up to a 
nine-week suspension from sports programs and, if the problem persists, 
suspension from school.

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 is considering a testing policy 
that would include tobacco. Teen-agers who take part in extracurricular 
activities or apply for permits to drive to school would be screened.

"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.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom