Newsbrief: School Districts Drug Testing for Tobacco, Too 10/11/02

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A small number of school districts around the country have expanded anti-drug urine testing programs to include tobacco, the use of which is unlawful for most high school students. According to the Associated Press, about a dozen districts in the Birmingham, AL, area test for tobacco, along with alcohol and several illegal drugs, including marijuana. The AP report also cited the Blackford County, IN, school district as having such a policy in place and noted that the Columbia County, FL, school district is considering one this week.

School districts around the country are revisiting the issue of drug testing after the Supreme Court ruled in June that random drug screening of students involved in extracurricular activities was constitutional. A 1995 Supreme Court ruling had okayed the practice for student athletes.

In most cases in the Alabama school districts, students who test positive for cotinine -- the metabolic byproduct left over after smoking or chewing tobacco -- face the same penalties as those who test positive for illegal drugs: The student's parents are called and the student is typically suspended from sports or other activities and placed on school probation.

Perhaps the addition of tobacco testing will prevent the programs from being a complete waste of time. In Alabama's Hoover High School, authorities conducted 679 drug tests on its athletes and only two came up positive for illicit drugs. Twelve came up positive for tobacco.

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