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Smoking at School?

October 21, 2017

Another Way for week of October 14, 2017

Smoking at School?

It was the Motley Crew who sang this popular song by The Brownsville Station in the year 1973: “Smokin’ in the boys room … Everybody knows that smokin’ ain’t allowed in school.”

My husband, who graduated high school in 1972, had his 45th year class reunion recently. One of the planned activities for the weekend was a trip through the hallowed halls at his old high school, now a middle school. The principal, a young woman (well, ok, she said her class was having its 25th reunion, but she looked so young!) made sure we got to go into all of the classrooms that still looked very much like they did back in 1972. I toured with my husband just to get a taste of what his high school was like back then, and to hear the stories and memories the walls evoked.

But my head wasn’t the only one that turned around when these classmates started reminiscing about an outside smoking area in a courtyard between some wings of the school.

Former smoking area at my husband’s old high school.

This was not a smoking area for teachers, but for students! Can you imagine it today? Even the Motley Crew said way back then, “everybody knows” that it “ain’t” allowed.

As my husband reminded his former classmates, it was only permissible if you had a signed note from your parents on file at the school; if you didn’t have a note, you better not stop and talk with anyone in the area or else you could be tapped for your permission papers. I’m guessing that there was also a cut off age—perhaps 16, although my husband didn’t remember any.

I don’t know how widespread this rule was. I went to a Christian school my first three years where that would have been totally forbidden, but I do recall there was a smoking area at the public high school where I graduated high school. I would love to hear from readers about the rules on smoking you remember at your schools.

When I told my work colleagues about this discovery and memory, they were amazed. Our society has changed so much it is incredibly difficult to imagine schools allowing kids to light up on the grounds. But remember back in the day—people could smoke on airplanes in a special section. In restaurants, sometimes you could have your “smoke” without a special section. And my hospital roommate, when I had our first daughter, was a smoker. There was only a curtain dividing us in our room. (Thankfully, I was moved.)

Unfortunately, I can’t say I was a nonsmoker all my life. I’m not proud of it, but for about two to three months of my junior year of college in Barcelona, Spain, where 75-80 percent of people—including my friends—smoked. Cheap brands were about ten cents a pack then. I went through several packs before I realized how easily it could become a habit. I told myself I had better stop before it become entrenched and hard to quit.

I do have sympathy for anyone who has tried and wants to quit but has difficulty. Of course there are all kinds of products available to help reduce the urge to smoke.

I did a little research online to see if other people remembered the days of “smoking at school.” One wrote in a discussion forum:

“Upon registration a parent had to sign if you were allowed to smoke. Then you’d have a box checked on your ID and could go out to a shed. My dad signed mine. He said he wanted it to be my choice, and he didn’t want to prevent me from hanging out with friends who smoked. This just seems crazy now!”

When we reflect on how policies about smoking have changed so dramatically in the last 30 years, we wonder what changes could come about that we can’t imagine now.

Nicotine is a powerfully addicting drug. If you smoke and want to quit, the Great American Smoke Out is coming up on November 16, a great time to quit! Some quit that day, or set goals for quitting. That would make this the best holiday season ever.

We only get one precious life. Now is a good time to make sure your life is not cut short by the habit of smoking.


What policies do you remember from your high school days on smoking? I’d love to hear practices in your community. 


Another Way Media, Box 363, Singers Glen, Va. 22850 or

Another Way is a column by Melodie Davis, in syndication since 1987. Another Way columns are posted at a week after newspaper publication.

  1. Smoking was forbidden at Elizabethtown High School though some older boys channeling Elvin wore skin-tight tee shirts with one sleeve rolled up holding a cigarette pack. A time or two I may have sniffed cigarette smoke in the girls bathroom.

    After EMC, I attended grad school at Temple University in Philly where I was almost asphixiated by smoke in the classrooms. Yes, the descritpion mde it into one scene of my memoir manuscript.

    • Thanks for the sneak peek into your memoir! During my junior year of college in Spain, we were also quite amazed how smoking was de rigueur in classrooms, including profs.

  2. My sisters and I pretended to “smoke” with pretzel sticks in the garage, a scene that has not made it in to my memoir. 🙂

    • I must reply to this too, bringing back memories of buying play cigarettes at the candy store, until Mom and Dad forbid that. But they didn’t catch us when one family member tried to light a cigarette from a free pack of promotional cigarettes in the mail (seriously). Mom had put them in the trash to be burned, and I know we played around with them before letting them go up in real smoke.

      Thanks for your stash of little stories to add fuel here!

  3. Elaine permalink

    Melody, I am curious where your husband’s school was located. I graduated from a high school near Reading PA in 1963 and never heard of parents signing to give permission to smoke. Was it a public school?

    • It was here in Dayton, VA. Public school. If you Google on line I found it wasn’t that unusual. Thanks for asking and commenting.

  4. Athanasia permalink

    I don’t know anyone who smoked. These are not the kind of kids we would be hanging around with. If there was a smoking area I wouldn’t know. But we didn’t live in an area that grew tobacco and made money off of people smoking it.

    • Athanasia, thanks for adding your comment. I had my eyes opened living in north Florida for my senior year of high school, for sure. Only one of my closer friends smoked, and she befriended me when as I was new and did not have a lot of friends. I truly appreciated Delilah’s acceptance of me. We did not hang out together apart from school but she talked to me at school and was not worried about what others thought of her. She was a strong girl both physically and emotionally and kind of taught me by example it was okay to be my own person.

      You raise an interesting point. You will probably agree with me that the main people profiting off of nicotine addiction were and are the tobacco companies and advertisers, not the small farmers who grew a few acres to supplement their income. Still, I don’t think my farmer father would have ever grown it, because of his personal convictions, although there were certainly Mennonite or Amish farmers in Pennsylvania who used to grow it. Thanks for commenting!

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