Introduction and aims: The international evidence about the effectiveness of school smoking bans on youth smoking initiation is equivocal. The purpose of the present study was to examine the association between school smoking bans and smoking initiation as a health outcome as well as academic achievement as an educational outcome, taking into account socio-economic status.
Design and methods: This multi-level study was based on a cross-sectional self-reported anonymous data from 12,990 students who participated in the 2002 Student Drug Use Survey in the Atlantic Provinces. The main outcomes were having smoked a first whole cigarette in the year prior to the survey, and academic performance. The main independent variable at the individual- and school-levels was a school rule against smoking on school property or at school events, as reported by students.
Results: Smoking initiation was predicted by individual-level demographic factors and by the contextual factor of attending a school with a high prevalence of established smoking, but failed to be predicted by a school smoking ban. The academic performance of students who indicated there was no school smoking ban was found to worsen as an increasing proportion of the student body indicated that such a rule existed. Lower socio-economic status was found to be an independent predictor of smoking initiation and poorer academic performance.
Discussion and conclusions: A school ban against smoking, in addition to not being clearly effective, might also not be entirely benign. School smoking policy should be monitored as to educational outcomes and the impact of policy on groups vulnerable to smoking.