Juvenile Justice

Published — December 23, 2011 Updated — May 19, 2014 at 12:19 pm ET

Kern County’s student smoking problem

Introduction

Students in Kern County, California should beware of indulging in a nasty habit that plagues 17 percent of adults there.

In line with its tough reputation for school discipline, Kern’s schools were tied for first place among California counties last year for booting out kids because of infractions involving tobacco — either smoking or chewing it. The state’s discipline records don’t include details about which particular habit turned out to be the last unlucky strike for a student.

The percentage of adult smokers in California dropped to a record low of about 12 percent in 2010, according to California Department of Public Health. In 2009, the last year for which county figures were available, the department estimated that Kern’s rate of 17 percent was one of the highest in the state.

Given that schools in Kern expelled more than 2,500 students last year, the number of those ousted for tobacco – eight – seems pretty modest. But that’s the largest number for any county except for Riverside County, where schools also expelled eight students for tobacco; Riverside’s smoking rate was almost 13 percent in 2009.

Kern and Riverside really stand out, because 42 out of 58 counties in the Golden State didn’t expel a single kid for indulging in tobacco last year.

In fact, for all of California, there were only about 40 expulsions for tobacco-related offenses, according to an analysis done by the Center for Public Integrity.

The numbers were a bit of a moving target. The Center’s initial analysis found about 70 expulsions statewide for tobacco. The figures were updated after schools in Southern California’s Orange County told the California Department of Education that they had erred in their reporting. That county’s initial report of 39 tobacco expulsions fell to just two.

Stay tuned for more on expulsions, suspensions and other juvenile-justice related info.

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