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Note: This site documents N.C.’s work on making public schools tobacco free, from 2000 until state law went into effect in 2008, and is provided as a resource for states and communities currently working to make their schools tobacco free. Factual information reflects research and data from 2000-2008.

Eight Steps to Policy Change

The following steps are a "road map" for policy change. However, like most destinations, there are several routes - with various stops along the way. We encourage you to use these 8 steps as-is, or to add or delete a few, and/or to change their order. Working together with school and community leaders to identify a policy change strategy that will be successful is what is most important.

Step 1: Use current policy assessment to get commitment.

  • Identify problems related to current policy and support for a change in policy or enforcement. Identify educational, health, and economic reasons for changing policy or enforcement.
  • Plan for educational opportunities. Select a team of knowledgeable and respected supporters to meet with possible opposition or neutral parties. Education should always take place. Don’t assume that people are knowledgeable of the issue
  • Interview key stakeholders about tobacco-free schools policy; share information; determine level of support and possible barriers
  • Identify potential barriers. Determine a system for working through these problems.
  • Spend energy gathering supporters. Focus efforts on those who are neutral on the issue – encouraging them to take your side. Don’t waste energy on individuals who will never move on the issue
  • Talk with students, staff, parents and community leaders about attitudes toward the current policy. Identify supporters; consider a petition Tools for Schools resource guide)
  • Secure school board and administrative support for a review of existing policy
  • Request support and cooperation from school board in developing new policy or strengthening enforcement of current policy

Step 2: Form or utilize your school's health advisory committee to recommend a tobacco policy.

  • Include representation of school and community members, including students, teachers, smokers and nonsmokers
  • Review current policy and gather data needed for new policy or enforcement changes
  • Include the review of effective policies or enforcement strategies from other districts
  • Discuss and address concerns of school administrators and others

Step 3: Develop a draft of the new policy.

Step 4: Present the new policy to school board.

  • Identify students to champion the policy
  • Identify an influential member on the school board to champion the policy. Identify a smoker, if possible, on the school board to champion the policy
  • Acquire and submit forms to get on school board agenda
  • Select a group to present. These may include local health care provider, teacher, students, parent school club leaders, athletic director, other champions. See preparing for a school board presentation for some helpful tips
  • Provide information packets to board members prior to the meeting
  • Preferably, meet with board members individually before the meeting
  • Gather support from community members to attend the meeting
  • Convey the importance of such a policy and ask for approval to adopt
  • Recognize policy change takes time; if at first you don't succeed, strategize and try again

Once the policy or policy change has been adopted by the school board…

Step 5: Plan the implementation and enforcement strategies.

  • Use the model Enforcement Plan to start discussion on how to enforce the new policy
  • Identify enforcement strategies for students, staff and visitors
  • Select an implementation date four to six weeks out in order to prepare. If convenient and helpful, you may wish to choose a date with "significance," such as start of the school year, a new semester, or the Great American Smokeout (third Thursday in November)
  • Allow sufficient time for people to prepare for implementation
  • Identify cessation resources available to tobacco users
  • Identify alternatives to suspension for policy violators
  • Prepare for complaints about the new policy and decide how conflicts will be resolved
  • Organize special sessions to train and educate those who will be enforcing the policy
  • Emphasize the need for firm, consistent enforcement
  • Emphasize that being tobacco-free is in the best educational/health/economic interests of all
  • Focus on the use of tobacco, not on the user
  • Make a commitment to enforce the policy consistently.

Step 6: Positively communicate the policy throughout school and community. Include:

  • A description of the new policy and reasons for the change
  • An emphasis on the educational, health and economic benefits of the new policy
  • People affected
  • Implementation date
  • Enforcement procedures
  • How and where to get help with quitting tobacco use
  • Communication strategies for reaching students, staff, parents and others.

Step 7: Implementing the policy.

  • Post signs with a positive no-tobacco use message in all affected areas. Celebrate the implementation
  • Recognize commitment is necessary to insure effective policy implementation
  • Expect an initial testing period
  • Be extra vigilant during the first few months of policy implementation
  • Provide positive incentives on day one of implementation such as healthy snacks, cinnamon candies, etc
  • Enlist support of community law enforcement agencies
  • Encourage students, staff, parents and others to take pride in new policy
  • Include tobacco users and non-users in all phases of implementation
  • Enlist cooperation of local retailers not to sell tobacco to minors
  • Use educational programs instead of punitive programs for student violators
  • Offer several options for cessation programs.

Step 8: Conduct on-going advocacy efforts and policy evaluation.

  • Collect stories of positive effects of polices on students and staff
  • Solicit comments from parents and community members
  • Publicize these comments and stories in school newsletter – send home to parents
  • Develop recognition events for student and staff who quit tobacco use
  • Orient new administrators, employees and board members to the policy
  • Identify problems with policy implementation and make necessary corrections
  • Have a new tobacco-free schools poster contest each year and post the winners
  • Communicate, communicate, communicate.

Source: Change Starts Here: The Grass Roots Guide for Tobacco-Free Schools in North Carolina , NC Tobacco Prevention and Control Branch, 2001.




Updated: December 19, 2019