Casey County student smoke-free group receives first Healthy Kentucky Policy Champion award

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A group of 19 Casey County High School Students are the first recipients of the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky’s new Healthy Kentucky Policy Champion award for their work to change the smoking culture on their school campus. The Casey Youth Coalition’s (CYC) campaign has helped reduce smoking, leading to a 10 percent decrease in 30-day tobacco use among 10th graders in 2016, for example. But with the youth smoking rate in Kentucky at 16.9 percent, more than double the national rate of 8 percent, the students say they still have work to do.

“All of us are extremely proud of all we have accomplished because the school’s environment has changed,” said Delaney Sowders, Vice President of the CYC. “There’s no tobacco smell when you enter our school. That has been a long-time problem. It took a lot of our time, commitment, ideas from a diverse group of students, support from our champions and funding, to accomplish this. We still need to work on the community’s tobacco use on our campus.”

Casey Youth Coalition students include Emily Whitehurst, Jaden Brown, Braydon Brown, Morgan Smith, Brenna Hayes, Kylie Cosner, Chelsea Griffin, Taylor Beard, Seth Owens, Presley Woodrum, Courtney Britt, Dalton Summers, Delaney Sowders, Abigail Shakelford, Savannah Owens, Alyssa Jones, Austin Harne, Gracie Johnson, and Hannah McQueary. The students describe the CYC as “youth voices solving problems one step at a time,” “changing your social environment,” “changing the norms,” and “youth empowerment.”

“These young men and women understand that their active involvement is pivotal in changing both youth and adult attitudes about smoking on campus,” said Ben Chandler, president and CEO of the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky, who visited the campus this morning to present the award. “The Casey Youth Coalition has been working for two years to boost adherence to the district’s 2015 tobacco-free campus policy, and this award recognizes their unrelenting efforts to change social norms about tobacco use.”

Research shows that smoke-free and tobacco-free policies reduce exposure to secondhand smoke and help keep youth from initiating tobacco use. Smoking is prohibited inside federally-funded schools, but there are no federal restrictions on the use of other tobacco products, either indoors or outside, on school campuses. Just half of Kentucky’s public school students are protected by tobacco-free policies that have been enacted by 36 percent of the state’s school districts, according to the Kentucky Center for Smoke-Free Policy. Yet the Foundation’s Kentucky Health Issues Poll has found that 85 percent of Kentucky adults favor tobacco-free schools. A tobacco-free schools bill passed the Kentucky Senate in 2017, but was not heard in the House.

Schools are highly visible places in communities, so tobacco-free campus policies can help change entire community norms to make tobacco use less socially acceptable. While most tobacco users comply voluntarily with such policies, achieving a truly smoke-free, or tobacco-free, environment requires education and monitoring to ensure compliance.

With the support of Casey County Public Schools Superintendent Marion Sowers and the Casey County Agency for Substance Abuse Policy (ASAP), Casey Youth Coalition members have been using photographs and other messaging to educate fellow students the health risks of tobacco use and reminding students, faculty, staff and visitors that the campus is tobacco free. They also have helped identify hot spots where compliance was lower, and worked with the school system to reduce the opportunity for violations.

Josh Blevins, Principal, Casey County High School, encouraged other principals to give their students a voice in projects like this: “Find the leaders in your building and empower them,” he said.

The Casey Youth Coalition is now eligible for the Healthy Kentucky Policy Champion of the Year award, which comes with a $5,000 grant from the Foundation to a Kentucky-based nonprofit of the winner’s choice. The winner of that award will be announced next fall. Nominations for the Healthy Kentucky Policy Champion award are accepted at any time. See details on the www.healthy-ky.org.

From Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky

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