The high cost of smoking
Celebratory cigars end in athletic suspension for seven graduating seniors
Smoke ‘em if you got ‘em is a timeworn phrase not heard much these days. Tobacco use has fallen out of style for the most part.
But one time-honored tradition that has held on is the ritual lighting of cigars in celebratory times. Babies, bachelor parties, Boston Celtic victories, and the like always resulted in flaming up a stogie, if only for a couple puffs.
But one hard and fast rule across the state these days is no tobacco use is tolerated on public property, especially schools where the lungs and mouths of youth are fervently protected from the effects of carcinogens contained in cigars, cigarettes, and chewing tobacco.
When a band of seven graduating Saugus High School seniors lit up the traditional cigar after the pomp and circumstance, school officials brought the hammer down on them. The pictures of the smokers showed up not only on social media but in local news outlets as well. That, said the superintendent, forced their hand.
All seven were prohibited from playing in post-season athletic games, six lacrosse team members including four captains and a baseball player. The harsh punishment caught students and parents by surprise and has reverberated not only around the state but across the country.
“Honestly, I started crying,” Kevin Cucuzza, one of the lacrosse players who was suspended, said. “We worked so hard all season to get to this point to make the tournament, and it came as a shock.”
“It is a harmless token of celebration,” one Saugus resident wrote in a Letter to the Editor of the Saugus Advertiser. “Hopefully we can all smoke a cigar soon when Saugus says bye bye to a few spiritless people in this town.”
School officials expressed their sympathy that the tradition had been allowed to go on so long but were steadfast that it broke the rules of both the district as well as the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association about tobacco use. The school district’s policy says explicitly that anyone caught violating the rules against drugs, alcohol, and tobacco “will be suspended for two weeks of a season in which the student is a participant” for a first offense.
“We are all responsible to some degree and fingers cannot be pointed at just one individual,” School Committee member Elizabeth Marchese said in an emailed statement to the Advertiser. “For years, the smoking of the traditional ‘cigar’ has been allowed and overlooked at graduation. By our tacit allowance, we as a whole have sent mixed messages to our students that there will be no consequence. That was wrong and unfair.”Keller@Large, the unofficial state scold, says there’s other lessons to be learned here that Saugus administrators overlooked.
“Rules are broken all the time for reasons of ceremony, tradition, and even fun, like fireworks on the beach on the Fourth of July or the office pool during March Madness,” he says. “Instead of showing understanding and letting these kids off with a warning, Saugus is modeling rigidity and misplaced priorities. I give this lesson plan an ‘F.’”