A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Anti-smoking advocates gather in state capitol to encourage lawmakers to make schools tobacco free

By Mary Kuhlman
Public News Service

There’s a new effort to clear the air on school campuses across the Commonwealth. Students, school district leaders and healthcare professionals joined the Coalition for a Smoke-Free Tomorrow in the Capitol Rotunda to encourage state lawmakers to pass a “tobacco-free students bill.”

As a Monroe County CARES Youth Prevention Ambassador, Noble Steenbergen said tobacco-free school policies encourage environments where smoking and other tobacco use is not the norm, and help protect students from the health consequences of smoking.

Research says 100 percent tobacco-free policies on school campuses can prevent nearly 30 percent of all Kentucky students from smoking. (Elvert Barnes/Flickr)

“I personally have a lot of allergies, and when I get around the smoke, I start sneezing and a lot of other things. I really don’t like the idea of being around it,” Steenbergen said. “That’s one of our main goals, is to prevent tobacco use in the school and in youth in general. And we would also like to protect future generations.”

House Bill 11 and Senate Bill 27 are companion bills filed at the statehouse that would make all Kentucky K-12 schools 100 percent tobacco-free beginning July 1, 2020. The ban would include electronic cigarettes.

Those concerned about such a policy worry about impeding the personal rights of adult school personnel and visitors, and about statewide law overstepping local control.

While teen smoking rates have fallen, e-cigarette use among teens has risen more than 70 percent in the past year. Steenbergen said it’s a misconception that “vaping” is a safer alternative to traditional tobacco cigarettes.

“They have nicotine and some of the same cancer-causing ingredients in them, so they do still put off a vapor with chemicals in them,” Steenbergen said. “My generation is just the guinea pig to the e-cigarettes and what they can cause.”

Ben Chandler, chair of the Coalition for a Smoke-Free Tomorrow, said about 3-in-4 teen smokers continue the habit into adulthood. However, he believes nearly 30 percent of all Kentucky students will not start if 100 percent tobacco-free policies are adopted and enforced.

“Fifty-eight percent of the school districts in Kentucky do not have tobacco-free laws. And really, this ought to be a simple matter for the Legislature,” Chandler said. “It’s obviously the right thing to do to protect our youth from the use of tobacco.”

Illnesses related to smoking are estimated to cost the state nearly $2 billion each year.

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