St. James schools booting tobacco

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 22, 2014

By David Vitrano

LUTCHER – All St. James Parish School Board facilities will go completely tobacco free starting this summer following a joint presentation from St. James Parish Hospital and the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals.

According to Brandi Bourgeois of the DHH, at 24 percent, Louisiana has one of the highest rates of high school smokers in the nation, and the department has made it a priority to bring that number down, both through education and programs such as the tobacco-free campus initiative.

Bourgeois said around 80 percent of the school districts in the state have already become part of the initiative. She also condemned the prevalence of other tobacco-delivery systems besides cigarettes because many of them provide easy access to tobacco and have a high appeal factor because of attractive packaging and marketing techniques.

Mary Ellen Pratt, St. James Parish Hospital CEO, said she felt it was the hospital’s responsibility to lead the charge in the parish. The facility joined the movement in March 2013, so she was able to offer some practical advice to the School Board as it undertakes the endeavor.

“To get the policy enforced is really about communication,” she said, adding, “The enforcement is really going to come down to your employees.”

She said the first weeks after the ban took effect were the most difficult as visitors were just not aware of the ban, and the ban’s effectiveness really comes down to enforcement.

“You’ve really got to mean what you say,” said Pratt. “I really think most people were respectful of what we were trying to do.”

She said when the ban first came down, she met with her employees who were smokers to discuss how to make the ban work for them, and she said it really came down to a choice between smoking and employment.

“That came from the smokers,” she noted.

After the ban went into effect, nearly a quarter of the smokers at the hospital quit, Pratt said.

“From a health care perspective, it has a tremendous impact,” she said.

After the entire School Board agreed to the ban, Superintendent Alonzo Luce set a target date of June 1 for the ban to take effect to allow time for an implementation plan to be put in place.

At that time, signs will be placed around facilities where the ban is in effect and penalties — usually fines — will be meted out for those who violate the ban.

Luce said he was happy to have a facility such as St. James Parish Hospital in the parish.

“I appreciate you guys being involved in everything we do,” he said.