Royal Oak Schools receives highest ranking for tobacco prevention

By: Taylor Christensen | Royal Oak Review | Published February 20, 2024

Shutterstock image


ROYAL OAK — Royal Oak Schools has earned one of the highest ratings for a tobacco-free environment from the Alliance of Coalitions for Healthy Communities.

Electronic cigarette usage officially became an epidemic after a declaration made by Surgeon General Jerome Adams in December of 2018, according to the CDC.

Since the boom of vaping device usage in the younger generation, schools throughout Michigan have been actively searching for ways to prevent it from continuing.

According to the Food and Drug Administration, 2.8 million students reported use of any tobacco product as of 2023. E-cigarettes were the most commonly used device, being used by 7.7% of the survey participants.

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services has created the Tobacco-Free Schools Policy in an attempt to guide schools in Michigan to reduce and ultimately eliminate tobacco use in schools.

The policy consists of three points — “consistent enforcement, remedial measures rather than punitive measures, and a thorough training of school staff,” according to the Tobacco-Free Report Card sent out by the MDHHS.

Michigan school districts are categorized on a four-category scale.

Category one indicates the prohibition of tobacco use in school buildings at all times, but outdoor use is allowed after 6 p.m. on regular school days, weekends or any days where there are no regularly scheduled school hours.

Category two prohibits tobacco use for everyone on school grounds, but not at off-grounds school-sponsored events.

Category three prevents use of tobacco at all times, on campus or off campus, at school-sponsored events. Schools that qualify in this category, however, do not mention e-cigarettes in their policies or similar next-generation tobacco products.

The fourth category prohibits tobacco use at all times, on campus and at off-campus events, but also includes the prohibition of e-cigarettes and next-generation tobacco products.

Royal Oak Schools is one of the many districts to have a category four policy in place, which earned the district a certificate recognizing this highest level of achievement from the Alliance of Coalitions for Healthy Communities.

“Among Michigan’s K-12 public school districts, 87% have a category four TFSP (tobacco free school policy) as of March 2023. This is a 240% increase in category four TFSPs since 2014,” according to the Tobacco-Free Report Card.

This certificate recognizes the district’s “outstanding commitment to a tobacco free environment,” according to the Royal Oak Schools website.

Royal Oak Schools Superintendent Mary Beth Fitzpatrick said the district feels “very strongly” about earning the recognition.

“We are attentive to updates as needed, and we are attentive to enforcing them and making people know safer and better health practices,” Fitzpatrick said.

Being a mother and former teacher, Fitzpatrick knows the importance of health and safety policies and how much of a struggle enforcing these policies can be.

Royal Oak Schools focuses on teaching students the dangers of vaping and is attentive to keeping it a topic of discussion.

Fitzpatrick said she believes that promoting “healthy body, healthy living” to the students is one of the most effective ways the school handles this problem

“If that is what a student values at a very young age, then when they are faced with decisions to make as they get older, they may think twice about starting on any kind of product that could harm them,” she said.

Detecting vaping devices among the students is one of the more challenging aspects of prevention.

Sam Klonke, Royal Oak High School senior, thinks that vaping is a real problem among the students in this generation.

“I see it, I smell it, and not just vaping, there is marijuana vaping too,” he said. “I think students think it’s a cool thing to do, and they start at a young age, seeing their friends doing it and fall into peer pressure.”

Klonke has noticed changes in his peers and thinks that vaping is something that can change a person, but also takes them away from their studies.

“They start off really well, and then they get into that addiction, and then they aren’t there as much or they aren’t as focused because they are just thinking about when they will go to the bathroom and vape again,” he said.

Fitzpatrick said educating the students is the strongest way to prevent vaping in the schools.

“I believe education is our biggest weapon,” she said.

Informing students at a young age what these devices are and the health risks associated with them is a major point of this policy. Fitzpatrick also said that teaching parents what to look for can help prevent it going forward.

“Most parents we have spoken to are unaware that their child has them or even what they are,” she said. “And that’s why I think the education piece is essential.”

Royal Oak Schools will be holding an educational vaping presentation on April 25. The presentation will be virtual and in collaboration with the Royal Oak Community Coalition.