Tuesday the SWAT team was geared up and ready to go — not to a hostage scene, but at a rally to end teen use of tobacco. This SWAT team, armed only with determination and dedication, is Students Working Against Tobacco, which joined Polk County School Board members and staff in promoting the Board’s new anti-tobacco policy adopted just moments before the rally at Mosaic Park in Bartow.
The students, from Winter Haven, Ridge Community and Bartow high schools, hosted the rally as the school board declared November its “Tobacco Free Schools” month.
The SWAT team cheered when School Board member Hazel Sellers said, “The idea of tobacco use is socially acceptable is wrong” and that adults, particularly in a school environment, “should be positive role models.”
She added this is just another way the board is reinforcing its commitment to keep it’s schools “a safe environment for all our students.”
Sellers also said the schools tobacco ban is a “win-win situation” in that employees on all Polk campuses must also abide by the policies, and “this will be a benefit to everyone.”
According to Angela Forte, the Polk Health Department’s Tobacco project manager, the SWAT groups “foster peer-to-peer prevention” by stressing to their friends and fellow students the dangers of smoking tobacco, using other tobacco products and also the new electronic or vapor devices.
“Our goal,” she explained “is to work to mobilize, educate and equip Florida youth to revolt against and deglamorize Big Tobacco with a united movement of empowered youth working towards a tobacco free future.”
Joining school board members and Superintendent of Schools Kathryn LeRoy on the Mosaic Park bandshell stage were anti-smoking advocate David Garrison, who called Polk County “a shining star and role model for the entire state” in its anti-smoking efforts.
Reformed smoker Henry Haake, a media specialist from Ridge Community High School told the students and school leaders, “It’s going to emphasize to any teachers who smoke that they can’t do it on campus and there’s nowhere they can run and hide.”
The new policy eliminates former designated smoking areas and applies not only to school staff and students, but to visitors, guests and anyone attending a school event at any school board owned property. Tobacco use in school board vehicles had already been banned.
“This will definitely make such a great impact on schools in Polk County,” said BHS junior Neel Shah, who also is a leader in the school’s SWAT group. His comments were echoed by Polk County Health Department Director Ulyee Cho, who also praised the school board’s action and the students’ dedication.
“It’s good to see the young people committed to being tobacco-free,” Cho said, adding the health message that “nicotine is very addictive and the longer you smoke the harder it is to quit. It’s best to never start.”