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The cigarette smoking "explosion" by almost half of the high-school students surveyed in Niagara Falls parallels a trend observed across the country, according to a study commissioned by the Niagara Falls City School District.

"Tobacco use has exploded," said Mark Kempner, who shared results of the Substance Abuse Survey with district officials and board members Thursday. "Kids are getting in trouble with drugs and the correlation with smoking is phenomenal."

The survey was prepared by the Boston-Norwood Group of Buffalo, and was administered in April to more than 3,000 students in grades six through 12, according to Kempner, the firm's principal consultant.

"The kids are smoking three to five cigarettes a day on average," Kempner told board members. "These kids can quit."

Survey findings in the three middle schools indicate: 24 percent of pupils at Niagara Middle smoke cigarettes; 27 percent at LaSalle Middle smoke; and 30 percent at Gaskill Middle do. In the district's two high schools, LaSalle and Niagara Falls, 44 percent and 42 percent of sampled students -- respectively -- admitted smoking cigarettes.

"Where does a sixth-grader get a cigarette?" asked Trustee Edward Barauskas.

"From their parents' dresser," responded Kempner. "Smoking has become a cool, hip thing and it's sort of scary."

The most frequently used drug, according to survey results, was marijuana, smoked by more than 95 percent of students who said they used drugs. By contrast, a total of 43 students in grades 9 to 12 -- or 2.7 percent of all students in those grades -- reported taking crack cocaine.

Alcohol use, has not increased significantly since the survey was first conducted in 1993, results indicate.

Students who admitted to heavy drinking -- more than five drinks per occasion -- amounted to 21 percent of the males and 14 percent of the females among Niagara Falls High School 12th graders. Among LaSalle High School seniors, 23 percent of males and 16 percent of females surveyed said they consumed more than five alcoholic drinks at a sitting.

Board members and district officials will review survey results for discussion at a future meeting. The survey recommends greater emphasis placed upon anti-smoking curriculum.

On another topic, Charles T. Longo -- vice principal at Niagara Falls High School -- briefed the board on the district's ongoing effort to improve attendance.

"I'm not going to rest until the attendance sheet is clean," Longo said.

The district is in the process of revamping its attendance policy, which has been criticized for its punitive rather than corrective measures. In addition, the former policy included no provision for remediation, a factor that tended to push students out the door, according to members of Attendance Policy Committee.

The pilot program, for example, advocates an independent study room and a mediation room as alternatives to suspension for some students.

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