Some schools testing teens for
smoking can lead to exclusion from activities
BY GREG GIUFFRIDA Oct. 8,
2002: The Associated Press
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
"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' privacy.
"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
In Lockney, Texas, a federal judge recently struck down the
district's testing of all students for the use of drugs, alcohol and
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 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 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.