Under Oklahoma law, tobacco use is banned on school property between 7 a.m. and 4 p.m. during the week.
However, the law doesn’t prohibit smoking on school grounds after 4 p.m. or on weekends or holidays.
A new statewide initiative, known as 24/7, aims to change that by encouraging schools to ban tobacco use at all events, even if they take place after 4 p.m.
“Everybody in Oklahoma has the opportunity to go tobacco-free, or they’re working toward it,” said Kathy Wellington, Communities of Excellence coordinator for Pontotoc County.
Wellington is working with area schools to implement the initiative, which is funded by Oklahoma’s share of the proceeds from a multi-state settlement against major tobacco companies.
Wellington said Friday that the Pontotoc County Technology Center will join the initiative starting July 1, and East Central University will ban smoking at after-hours activities starting Aug. 1. She added that ECU falls under Gov. Mary Fallin’s executive order banning smoking at all state-owned properties.
Six area school districts — Ada, Byng, Latta, Roff, Stonewall and Vanoss — have also signed up and will launch their individual campaigns when the new fiscal year starts July 1.
Wellington said school officials considered launching the campaign before school ended this year, but they decided to wait until the fall.
“We talked about the end of the year, but this is kind of a big policy,” she said. “Even to change some policies in the middle of the year is hard. So they wanted to have the time to get things in place, inform their staff and school members. So we decided to do it in August.”
The Oklahoma State Department of Health estimates that tobacco use kills about 6,000 Oklahomans each year, making it the leading cause of preventable death in the state. The department also says tobacco use costs Oklahomans more than $2 billion a year in medical expenses and lost productivity, for an average of about $600 per person.
The 24/7 initiative uses a variety of methods, including social media and positive peer pressure, to spread the message that tobacco use is dangerous. For instance, participating schools will have a Students Working Against Tobacco (SWAT) Team, which will work with teachers on educating people about the benefits of a tobacco-free campus.
Wellington said she thought the school districts that have joined the campaign were already considering banning tobacco use on their property at all times.
“Pontotoc County is ready for different tobacco policies,” she said.
Attempts to reach area superintendents for comment Friday afternoon were not immediately successful.