by Jared Perlo
As much as we may like to pretend that we live in an isolated, idyllic bubble here at Newton North, teenagers here face the same challenges as adolescents around the country. There is alcohol abuse, drug usage, and excessive tobacco usage. And while the first two are certainly two of the more recognized teen safety issues, the tobacco usage in our school community tends to be blissfully ignored.
However, recognizing the existence of the problem does not automatically negate all of the progress that has been made to remedy the situation. On the contrary, only six percent of high schoolers in Newton currently smoke cigarettes, according to the results of the 2012-2013 Newton Youth Risk Behavior Survey . Statewide, “indicators of cigarette smoking have been significantly declining among Massachusetts high school students since 2003.”
However, the Youth Risk Survey found that ten percent of all high school seniors regularly use tobacco products. That number may appear negligible, until you consider the fact that with over 500 students in the senior class, that percentage equates to over 50 young high schoolers who regularly use tobacco products. What’s more, the only significant, across-the-board action the administration and city have recently taken to combat the problem—a restriction on smoking around the school property—seems to have failed miserably, and more constructive legislation and community efforts must take its place.
The restriction on smoking around the school, in addition to existing state regulations banning smoking on campus, has existed ever since 2007 when the Board of Aldermen passed the restriction, which outlaws all smoking on public property within 900 feet of the school’s boundaries. However, being the clever teenagers that high schoolers are, students have simply uprooted themselves from the famed Smoker’s Alley at the old building and transplanted themselves onto property adjacent to Russell Court and the Senior Center, mere footsteps from the Theatre Entrance.
Alderman Paul Colletti foresaw the problem when he told the Newton Tab six years ago that “Smoker’s Alley might become Russell’s Alley . . . if a student really wanted to smoke, there is another way.” Colletti could not have been more right. As a result of the wafting clouds of smoke that so gracefully hover over the Senior Center’s lawn, no-smoking signs now grace the benches at the Senior Center, and rumor has it that Jennifer Price, the principal, had to pay a visit to the students lounging around the Senior Center to shoo them away.
Administrators have literally kicked the can down the road, albeit by a few hundred feet. Now, instead of high schoolers receiving the brunt of the burning tobacco, unfortunate senior citizens have to deal with the unsightly presence of smokers adjacent to their public property. The ban has not eradicated anything, it has simply moved it out of eyesight.
If the school truly wants to solve the tobacco problem and help correct students’ habits, administrators and social workers must establish firm links with the anti-tobacco community. For example, there already exists a myriad of anti-smoking campaigns, including The 84 (the84.org), a non-profit with a chapter at the local YMCA dedicated to fighting the influence and coercion of big tobacco. Speakers should come in and talk to students, counselors should confront the problems head on, and administrators and lawmakers must realize that their well-intentioned ban has not lived up to its goal.