Life is becoming more difficult for the youngest smokers at Penticton Secondary School.
The school this fall launched a new quit-smoking program, part of which includes principal Alan Stel threatening to suspend Grade 9 students caught smoking, even if they’re off school property.
Such a suspension “might not hold up perfectly well,” Stel told the board of the Okanagan Skaha School District, but it does accomplish the desired goal.
“They are in fact smoking, we know they’re just going farther away,” Stel continued, but, “We want that to be a challenge for them.”
The principal said educators have a moral obligation to help improve students’ lives, and reducing the number of smokers is a good first step because smoking is “just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to issues in our school.”
There are between 75 and 100 identified smokers among his roughly 1,200 students, Stel added.
Youth worker Sylvie Hamel, who is helping with the program, told the board a survey conducted earlier this year found 14 per cent of student smokers said they tried cigarettes before they were 10 years old, while the majority, 27 per cent, first puffed when they were 12.
Student smokers were also invited to meetings arranged by grade where Hamel discussed strategies for making positive life changes and tried to understand the reasons they smoke.
The next set of meetings, in December, will focus on the neurobiology of addiction and why some students are more likely to get hooked on harmful substances than others.
“I want them to have this understanding that some of them are more at risk than others,” Hamel said.
She added that emotional regulation and anxiety were among the reasons commonly given by students when asked why they smoke, so a future session will delve into stress management techniques.
Stel said next year he will tell both Grade 9 and 10 students they are not welcome to smoke near school property, then add Grades 11 and 12 in the following years.
“We’re going to give it four years and invest some time working on this culture of smoking,” he said.
Trustee Shelley Clarke suggested the program also focus on the cost of smoking.
“The money thing is huge for teenagers; they don’t really think about the health effects because they’re invincible,” Clarke said.