Blast From The Past: Controversy Over Smoking Was Lit In 1975

Blast From The Past: Controversy Over Smoking Was Lit In 1975

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Yet, the good news is that cigarette smoking amongst teens overall is down. According to a recent report from the CDC, less than 5 percent of youngsters surveyed in 2019 reported having smoked a cigarette at some point in 2019. That marked a decrease of more than 15 percent compared to data released in 2011. 

While the concern over e-cigarettes has grown in recent years, the campaign against traditional tobacco use has apparently been effective with the younger generation.

That, however, was not the case in 1975. 

Though the ban on cigarette advertising on television and radio had taken effect four years prior, teens were still “lighting up” with a great deal of regularity. According to a study printed in the American Journal of Public Health in 1995, more than 40 percent of teens ages 17-19 in 1975 reported having tried smoking, as well as more than 20 percent of 12-16-year-olds. 

This trend made for quite the headache at Cheshire High School, as the school tried to grapple with the reality of rampant cigarette use while also enforcing restrictions on where and when the habit could be indulged.

In the Jan. 9, 1975 edition of The Herald, a front page article announced that the issue of smoking had come to a head at CHS, and Board of Education members wanted something to be done:

(Principal Robert) Mischler was given one month by Board of Education chairman Kenneth Irish to work out the remaining smoking problems at Cheshire High School, an assignment that caused the school principal to observe, “I don’t know one principal who is able to handle the problem.”

The smoking discussion at the Board meeting grew out of a letter written recently by a parent protesting the automatic five-day suspension rule for students caught smoking beyond one of the nine designated outdoor smoking areas. Students at the school have complained recently that smokers jam the girls’ lavatories making them virtually unusable by non-smokers. A similar problem does not seem to exist in the boys’ lavatories. High school Board representatives Thomas DeVylder said smoke can be seen coming out from under the door to some of the girls’ lavatories.

“I’d hate to have to go in them,” he added.

The article goes on at length to chronicle the rather extensive back-and-forth that occurred between the Board, which wanted more to be done to curtail smoking on school premises, and Mischler, who, while not openly hostile to the idea of devising new strategies, made clear his belief that maintaining the standing rules was essential:

“The vast majority of kids respect the rights and privileges of others,” said Mr. Mischler, adding that “perhaps 25” students out of the entire female enrollment were breaking the smoking rules. 

Mr. Mischler said approximately 65 percent of all area high schools permit or make allowance for student smoking. He termed smoking a “badge of sophistication” which could be attained for 55 cents.

Some ideas were evidently thrown around by Board members, including one that would have called for students to police the lavatories themselves. However, that proposal was shot down rather quickly, after one member suggested student policing would lead to “gang warfare,” and that volunteers would be hard to come by.

In the Jan. 16, 1975 edition of the paper, The Cheshire Herald editorial board weighed in on the topic, lending support to Mischler’s insistence that the best course of action would be for school administrators to enforce the rules already on the books:

(Mischler) is quite right in labeling the habit of smoking a “badge of sophistication” for youngsters. It doesn’t take a long memory for most to recall the fascination the cigarette held for us as young boys (at least then, it was mostly boys) and the thrill of “snitched” puffs behind the woodshed — until we were caught and made to take the pledge. 

Cigarette advertising has over the years made the most of the sophistication angle, the purpose being to draw another generation of new smokers into the fold.

If parents don’t mind that their young teenagers are puffing away, we’re not about to lecture them on the hazards of smoking. But the school administration cannot permit individual addiction to nicotine to be satisfied at the cost of safety, or at the expense of the comfort of the student body. The latter override the inconvenience that may be imposed on the smoker, and that is the nut of the problem.

For Mischler, though, the “nut of the problem” seemed to be how to “solve” the smoking problem at the high school in a matter of four weeks. Ultimately, he wasn’t able to achieve such a lofty, rather unrealistic goals, but he did return to the Board of Education in February with some ideas on how the issue could be handled in the future.

As the front page article in The Herald’s Feb. 13, 1975 edition explained, Mischler wanted to approach the smoking issue from some different angles:

The Board of Education accepted four recommendations prepared by Cheshire High School Principal Robert Mischler to alleviate student smoking problems at the high school. 

The Board, however, tabled a recommendation to retain two female lavatory aides to police the girls’ lavatories at the school.

The accepted recommendations include: Retaining present rules concerning smoking including exterior smoking areas, permission slips and punishment for violation …; continue teacher enforcement of the pass system to discourage illegal entry …; restrict availability of lavatories during periods and before and after school …; and ventilate every lavatory. 

The Board balked at accepting the proposal to provide paid monitors in the girls’ lavatories beginning after the February break … The opposition (to which) centered around the estimated $1,285 cost of such an action and the question of whether the hiring of aides would, in fact, solve any problems.

Whether the new regulations had any tangible effects on student smoking is unclear. The issue would be raised again numerous times over the years, as students continued to use school bathrooms and outside areas to smoke.

In 2020, schools have less issues combating cigarette smoking, but find themselves dealing with a new phenomenon — vaping.

What will school administrators be policing in the year 2060? 

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