Reference Group for Health Promoting Schools in the W. Cape



Presented by: Mr. Rubin Adams
School Psychologist, Paarl School Clinic
Executive Committee member Reference Group for HPS

On behalf of the Reference Group for Health Promoting Schools in the Western Cape.

The Reference Group for HPS fully supports the proposed tobacco products control amendment bill. The successful implementation of the proposed bill will go a long way to creating healthier environments at our schools (and other centres of learning). More than 40% of our population is of school-going age, therefore the success of the proposed bill will also depend on how successfully it gets implemented at schools.

There is a commitment to Education in South Africa, as is witnessed by the fact that a large proportion of the National Fiscus is devoted to Education. This is a big investment In the children of South Africa. This investment in schools (and other centres of learning) is intended to yield benefits to individuals, communities and the nation as a whole. Such benefits include improved social and economic development, increased productivity and enhanced quality of life.

We believe that these educational investments can be greatly enhanced by increasing the capacity of schools to promote health as they do learning. Health influences education. Healthy children learn well and can take full advantage of every opportunity to learn. Likewise unhealthy conditions at schools interferes with the learners' ability to benefit maximally from their educational opportunities. We are therefore striving to create health promoting schools, in line with the WHO's Global School Health Initiative. A health promoting school can be characterised as a school that is constantly strengthening its own capacity as a healthy setting for living, learning and working.

The proposed bill will contribute significantly towards the development of healthier schools. The prohibition of smoking in public places will lead to policy formulation to create "smoke-free" schools. The current practices of smoking in staff rooms, classrooms, corridors and the creation of "smoking rooms" for learners, etc. will be reviewed. The need to introduce smoking policies at schools will be an important entry-point towards creating healthier schools. Starting with health promotion activities for staff members will put an imperative on educators to act as positive role models for learners. Smoking cessation and lifestyle change programmes aimed at teaching staff will be a key strategy in moving towards healthier schools. This will place educators in a better position to acquire the necessary skills to impart life-skills to learners.

The successful implementation of smoking policies at schools will lead to the creation of an enabling environment for learning and optimal development. A healthier environment is a pre-requisite for acquiring the necessary life-skills to make healthy choices and to maintain healthy lifestyles. It is also a known fact that successful prevention of initiation of smoking is associated with a decreased likelihood of engaging in other risk-taking behaviours, such as violence, unprotected sexual activity, etc. It has been shown that money spend on smoking prevention programmes is nineteen (19) times more efficiently used, than money spent on the consequences of smoking (WHO Global School Health Initiative, 1996, Geneva).

There is therefore also a great need to protect learners from the subliminal promotion of tobacco products through advertising, and the association with sporting and cultural events. The powerful role of sports in the aspirations and dreams of learners should be utilised in a positive health promoting way. The current association of tobacco products with major sporting events should therefore be discontinued, despite perceived losses of sponsorships. Tobacco advertising on billboards in the vicinity of schools should also be discontinued. The access to cigarettes by school-going children should also be limited, in that free samples should not be allowed, and selling of cigarettes on school premises be prohibited.

The impact of a smoke-free school on the surrounding community will be of great public health importance. For the bill to be successfully implemented, community action needs to support the practices initiated at the school. The school can serve as a catalyst to adopt smoke-free practices in homes and surrounding community structures. This could enable communities to become more health conscious.

The proposed bill is an important step in refocusing our priorities from curative interventions towards preventive and promotive interventions. Given the limited resources in our current economic environment, a tremendous burden is already being placed on the health services by patients suffering from the consequences of smoking. By passing this bill in its entirety, we will start a process through which this escalating health burden can be significantly and cost-effectively reduced.

South Africa has adopted the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and has pledged to "take all appropriate legislative, administrative, social and educational measures to protect the child from all forms of physical or mental violence, injury or abuse, neglect or negligent treatment, maltreatment or exploitation". We therefore have an obligation to provide children with an environment that fosters the health, self-respect and dignity of the child. We believe that by passing this bill, our children can grow up in such an environment.