To describe the cigarette-smoking policies of a sample of New Zealand secondary schools.
Schools randomly selected from six geographical regions for participation in the Health Sponsorship Council's 2002 Youth Lifestyle Study (YLS) were invited to also participate in the School Smoking Policies Survey (SSPS).
Eighty one of 82 schools responded (response rate 98.8%); 64 schools (79.0%) provided copies of smoking policies. Of the schools that provided policies, only 31 (50.8%) were totally smoke free, ie, banned smoking 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Five schools (8.2%) were both smoke free and fully compliant with existing legislation. Seventy eight schools (96.3%) provided education about smoking and imposed sanctions on students caught smoking. Most respondents (74.1%) considered school staff would support proposed changes to the Smoke-free Environments Act that would make all school buildings and grounds totally smoke free.
Most secondary schools are not smoke free, but most staff are likely to support smoke-free status. Existing inconsistency among educational messages, school practice and staff actions may undermine tobacco-smoking-prevention efforts. Proposed strengthening of smoke-free legislation is both timely and necessary to ensure that all New Zealand students are provided with totally smoke-free school environments, consistent with health education messages.