By Dave Mabell
Alta Newspaper Group – Lethbridge
A Taber school division has earned top marks for its efforts at reducing the number of students who smoke. That’s vitally important, an Alberta health advocacy group says, as Canadians prepare for legalized marijuana.
Students and parents should remember tobacco kills 55 times more Canadians than marijuana, according to Les Hagen, executive director of the Action on Smoking and Health organization. So it’s essential the dangers of tobacco use aren’t forgotten as communities decide how to deal with marijuana.
The province-wide ASH organization has awarded the Holy Spirit Catholic schools an “A” for their initiatives to provide a smoke-free environment, prohibit youth possession of tobacco and promote treatment programs for students and staff who want to quit.
The Lethbridge School District 51 was awarded a “B” in the same evaluation, while Palliser Regional Schools got “C” on their report card and Westwinds just a “D.”
“A growing number of school boards are taking action to prohibit the use of cannabis and tobacco on school grounds, prior to cannabis legalization,” Hagen reported.
Others must address the issue, he urged.
“We recommend that school districts prohibit the smoking and vaping of any substance on school property,” he said. Marijuana products are among the substances that may be used in vapour machines.
“Children and youth should not be exposed to harmful drug use on school property, and they should be offered effective drug prevention education in the classroom,” the advocacy group says.
The Holy Spirit division, covering Catholic schools from Pincher Creek to Bow Island, was one of just eight Alberta districts winning top marks – along with Catholic school systems in Medicine Hat, Calgary and Edmonton. Holy Spirit scored “A” for its smokefree environment, its tobacco education and cessation efforts, its steps against youth possession and its organizational policies.
ASH marked it as “B” for its actual enforcement activities, while Lethbridge District 51 was given a “C” for enforcement. District 51 also scored an “A” for an overall smoke-free environment and for its cessation initiatives, while receiving a “B” overall.
Where the city’s public system lost marks was on its efforts to keep e-cigarettes, marijuana and drug use paraphernalia off its property.
The Palliser division, serving Coaldale and Coalhurst along with communities across Lethbridge and Vulcan counties, was graded “C” overall, earning an “A” for enforcement but a “D” for tobacco education and cessation.
The Livingstone Range division, centring on Fort Macleod, was also marked at “C” overall. It received two “F” marks for failing to report any initiatives to halt youth possession, or tobacco education and cessation promotion.
The grades, Hagen explained, are based on school boards’ responses to a province-wide survey conducted earlier this year. He said the Horizon district, based in Taber, was one of a handful that failed to respond as the results were being analyzed.
The Westwind School Division, with headquarters in Cardston, was graded “D.” While it scored a “B” for a smoke-free environment, it was marked “F” for youth possession, enforcement, tobacco education and cessation.