Please don’t smoke here.

That’s the message Russell school officials are trying to get across.

In an area where two other districts have banned tobacco use entirely on school property, Russell is trying a softer approach, said district nurse Nicole Pennington.

Posted at the entrances to the district’s major athletic venues — the football stadium, baseball, softball and soccer fields and tennis courts — are 2-by-8 signs that welcome visitors and plead, “Please help us to keep athletes and spectators healthy by not smoking or using any tobacco products.”

“We debated on whether to prohibit tobacco, but we decided on a more gentle approach,” Pennington said.

Making nice seems to be working, she said. The first sign went up at the football stadium in mid-May on track and field day. That was earlier than planned, but when Pennington saw a young mother holding a baby and puffing a cigarette, she called maintenance workers and asked them to go ahead and erect the sign.

Smokers at the event immediately honored the request and went outside to smoke, she said.

While she doesn’t pretend that the mother she saw smoking went home and tossed out her cigarettes, Pennington does believe the baby has a good chance of learning not to get started with tobacco.

The signs are part of an overall public awareness campaign that includes in-school classes on tobacco. “The kids hear the message year after year and they take the message home,” she said.

Surveys both locally and statewide show fewer youngsters are taking up the habit, she said.

Besides the signs, announcers at Russell games will broadcast the no-smoking request, and more signs are planned for the district’s other athletic fields, she said.

Whether the district will make the leap to a formal no-tobacco policy is undecided, said Dennis Chambers, who is Russell’s finance officer and the chairman of the wellness committee.

“It’s obviously something we’ll explore in the future. The trend is supportive of that but it won’t be in the coming year,” he said.

The district already prohibits smoking in school buildings and district vehicles, he said.

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