California Senate passes bill requiring tobacco-free policies at schools

Kevin Foote/File

On Thursday, the state Senate passed a bill that requires California schools to implement and enforce tobacco-free campus policies.

The bill, known as AB 2X-9, requires that every school in California have a sign at its entrance stating that tobacco use is prohibited. The bill also expands the definition of tobacco to include products such as e-cigarettes and other forms of smokeless tobacco, thereby ensuring that these products are prohibited on campuses.

Assemblymember Tony Thurmond, D-Richmond, who sponsored the bill, noted that the problem of tobacco use on campuses is not specific to schools in Berkeley. He emphasized that the goal of the legislation is to make all campuses in California smoke-free in order to protect children from the dangers of smoking.

“This bill is the first time that ‘smoke-free,’ ‘tobacco-free’ extends to e-cigarettes,” Thurmond said. “It’s an important distinction, because we know they’re being sold to young people at high rates.”

The bill’s fact sheet states that only about 600 schools in California are part of the statewide Tobacco-Use Prevention Education program, which qualifies them to receive funds once the campuses have been certified as a tobacco-free.

“The bill helps to clarify for the school district that they need to have a tobacco-free policy, and as it stands now, about 1,200 schools (in California) do not have those policies articulated because it’s been tied to funding,” Thurmond said.

Mark Coplan, spokesperson for the Berkeley Unified School District, noted that the school district has one of the lowest rates of student tobacco use in the state. He added that while tobacco and alcohol are already prohibited on campuses, the problem is that students don’t realize that smokeless tobacco products, which also contain nicotine, are just as dangerous.

“We’ve always been proud of the fact that our parents really tell their kids tobacco is dangerous, and they listen,” Coplan said. “Now, with the use of vaporizers, kids don’t realize it’s the same risk.”

Tobacco use and sales near campuses have long been prevalent problems, and the Berkeley school district supports efforts to reduce students’ exposure to tobacco, according to Coplan.

AB 2X-9 is one in a series of pieces of state legislation that seek to discourage tobacco use. On Thursday, the state Senate passed another bill raising the age of smoking from 18 to 21.

The bill awaits Gov. Jerry Brown’s signature in order to go into effect.

Contact Sareen Habeshian at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @sareeenn