More than half – 101 out of 181 – Georgia school districts are now tobacco-free. Emanuel County Schools, Lowndes County Schools and Jenkins County Schools all recently implemented Georgia’s 100% Tobacco-Free School policy leading to this milestone in the Georgia Department of Public Health’s (DPH) work to protect the state’s children from the harmful effects of tobacco use and second-hand smoke.

Under the 100% Tobacco-Free School policy no student, staff member or school visitor is permitted to use any tobacco product or E-cigarette, at any time on school property. Eighty Georgia school districts have not signed the policy.

“Tobacco-free schools save lives,” said Jean O’Connor, JD, DrPH, director of Chronic Disease Prevention for DPH. “Ninety percent of Georgia’s smokers started using tobacco before the age of 18, and by eliminating tobacco use—including e-cigarettes—in schools, we can reduce the likelihood children in Georgia will start to use tobacco as well as protect children and adults from the effects of secondhand smoke.”

Tobacco use causes heart disease, cancer, diabetes and premature death. In a young person, smoking can damage the heart and lungs right away and in some cases, the damage never goes away. Studies show that eliminating tobacco smoke in an environment can reduce the incidence of heart attack related hospital admissions by between 10 and 40 percent.

“Young people are extremely sensitive to nicotine and the younger they are when they start using tobacco, the more likely they are to develop addiction to nicotine, and begin a lifetime of chronic disease,” said Brenda Fitzgerald, M.D., commissioner of the Georgia Department of Public Health. “That makes prevention in Georgia schools right now so critical.”

School districts can get help from local health departments to implement the 100% Tobacco-Free School policy. Each Health District in Georgia has a health promotion coordinator who can present the policy to the local school board and work with school administrators to implement it. In addition, youth empowerment teams will disseminate anti-smoking messages through media and social media.

District 4 Public Health is proud to have 11 of the 12 counties in our service area with 100% tobacco-free school districts and two counties with 100% tobacco-free parks and recreation facilities.

All Georgians, including students, 13 to 17 years old, can call the Georgia Tobacco Quit Line at 1-877-270-STOP (7867) or 1-877-2NO-FUME (877-266-3863) and receive confidential counseling on how to quit smoking.

For more information about the harmful effects of smoking and tobacco use in young people, click here. To learn more about DPH’s efforts to help schools become tobacco-free, visit the Chronic Disease Prevention section’s Tobacco-Free and Smoke-Free environments website.