(FRANKFORT, KY - March 21, 2018) In a month marked by youth activism, hundreds of students are urging lawmakers to prevent teen smoking by raising the price of cigarettes, among other policies to reduce tobacco use. The postcard campaign is one of dozens of Kentucky events on Kick Butts Day, an annual celebration of youth activism against Big Tobacco.
The youth are reminding legislators that smoking kills more than 8,900 Kentuckians every year and, absent better tobacco control policies, 119,000 Kentucky kids currently under age 18 will die prematurely from smoking. Nationwide, smoking kills more people than alcohol, AIDS, car crashes, illegal drugs, murders, and suicides combined.
"Tobacco has negatively affected the lives of many Kentuckians and our generation is ready to put a stop to its reign of terror," said Nellie Ellis, a sophomore at Whitley County High School. "It is crucial to stand up for policies we believe in now, such as a higher tobacco tax, to ensure that we pave the road for the future we want to see for ourselves and generations to come."
Research shows that a significant price hike, generated by adding at least $1 per pack to the state cigarette tax, now the 43rd lowest in the nation, will keep a total of 23,200 Kentucky youth from becoming adult smokers. Currently, 2,900 Kentucky youth become new daily smokers every year, and 90 percent of adult smokers begin while still in their teens.
In addition to cigarette tax increases, two other policies that research shows actually reduce tobacco use and exposure to secondhand smoke include smoke-free indoor workplace laws and tobacco-free school campus policies. This year, Kentucky once again received a grade of "F" from the American Lung Association for its lack of such policies.
That's why smoking rates are so high in the Commonwealth, say health advocates. In 2017, 16.9 percent of Kentucky high school youth smoked, more than double the national average of 8 percent. Moreover, youth smoking rates are declining more slowly in Kentucky than they are nationwide. The adult smoking rate in Kentucky, at 24.5 percent, is second highest in the nation.
"By raising Kentucky's cigarette tax by $1 per pack teenagers would be unable to afford tobacco products and this will promote healthier habits," said Sierra Potts, a Lincoln County High School sophomore. "Reducing tobacco use is important to me because I have seen first hand from my peers and relatives how the use of tobacco products affects the body and mind of users."
Ben Chandler, chair of the Coalition for a Smoke-Free Tomorrow, said, "The cigarette tax increase is a smoking prevention measure for youth, which is far more effective than trying to break a nicotine habit once you're already addicted. It's the most effective measure there is for teen smoking prevention." Chandler is also president and CEO of the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky, which staffs the Coalition and coordinated today's rally in conjunction with the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, national sponsor of Kick Butts Day.
"Tobacco companies spend $8.9 billion each year - $250 million in Kentucky - to promote their deadly products," said Amy Barkley of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. "Kids are twice as sensitive to tobacco advertising as adults and they're also influenced by low cigarette prices. With a cigarette tax increase of at least $1 per pack, Kentucky can take a giant step toward creating the first tobacco-free generation."
The postcard campaign was one of nearly 20 registered Kick Butts Day events in Kentucky. Participating students are writing postcards using the hashtag #BeTheFirst, telling lawmakers that youth need their help to create the first tobacco-free generation.
Other groups participating in Kick Butts Day events in Kentucky include:
Lyon County Middle School Champions, Eddyville: Sidewalk chalk campaign in front of City Hall to support a smoke-free law
Girdler Elementary School UNITE Tigers United Club, 6th grade, Girdler: #BeTheFirst tobacco-free generation pledge wall in the cafeteria
Reidland Family Resource & Youth Services Center, Reidland Middle School, Paducah: Student games, activities and information during lunch
Caverna Elementary School, Cave City: Will spell out "smoke-free school" using cups in a chain link fence and send home information about smoking cessation
McCracken County High School and Purchase District Health Department, Paducah: Students will "spin the wheel" to learn about tobacco harms and win prizes for correct answers; "#BeTheFirst pledge tobacco-free generation wall in the cafeteria
BC Drug Free Community Coalition, Morgantown: #BeTheFirst tobacco-free generation pledge wall at Morgantown High School
Adair High School Youth Coalition, Columbia: Walking tobacco audit and photo voice project in support of a smoke-free community ordinance
Montgomery County High School and Montgomery County Health Department, Mt. Sterling: #BeTheFirst tobacco-free generation pledge wall
Jr. Casey County Youth Coalition, Liberty: #BeTheFirst tobacco-free generation pledge wall, mural, poster contest, slide show and PSA for area schools
Laurel County Health Department, London: #BeTheFirst tobacco-free generation pledge campaign at local middle schools
Aetna Better Health of Kentucky: Smoking cessation pledge day and #BeTheFirst tobacco-free generation pledge wall to support a $1 increase in the tax on cigarettes
Monroe County Cares Youth Prevention Ambassadors, Tompkinsville: #BeTheFirst tobacco-free generation pledge wall at Swirlies Restaurant, in support of a county smoke-free law
Kentucky River District Health Department: #BeTheFirst tobacco-free generation pledge wall at high schools in Hazard and other counties in the district; inviting students to start youth advocacy group
Franklin-Simpson Youth Action Team, Franklin: Lining pairs of shoes around the courthouse representing the lives taken by tobacco use or exposure in Franklin and Simpson County; banners and yard signs; sticker shock campaign with local restaurants; town hall meeting, all in support of a county-wide smoke-free ordinance
Shelby Prevention, Shelby County Schools, Shelbyville: #BeTheFirst tobacco-free generation pledge wall; other activities in support of raising the age to purchase tobacco products in Kentucky
The Coalition for a Smoke-Free Tomorrow, which comprises 157 organizations seeking to reduce tobacco use and exposure to secondhand smoke in Kentucky, supports a $1-per-pack increase in the cigarette tax in Kentucky. Research based on the experience in other states shows that the tax increase will lead to a price hike that helps teens decide against smoking and adults decide to quit. In Kentucky, the increase will result in 54,000 fewer adult and teen smokers, and save $1.07 billion in long-term health care costs.
About the Coalition for a Smoke-Free Tomorrow
The Coalition for a Smoke-Free Tomorrow is committed to its mission of improving Kentucky's health by protecting Kentuckians from secondhand smoke and other tobacco emissions, and by reducing the high rate of smoking and tobacco use in the Commonwealth. For more information, please visit www.smokefreetomorrow.org.
The Coalition is led by representatives of the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, American Heart Association, American Lung Association, Baptist Health, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky, Humana, Kentucky Cancer Foundation, Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, Kentucky Council of Churches, Kentucky Equal Justice Center, Kentucky Health Collaborative, Kentucky Health Departments Association, Kentucky Hospital Association, Kentucky Medical Association, Kentucky Nurses Association, Kentucky School Boards Association, Kentucky Voices for Health and Kentucky Youth Advocates. Other partners and members of the Coalition represent a broad array of more than 145 groups, including Kentucky business leaders, health advocates, health care providers and payers, educators, and faith community leaders. See entire list on the Coalition website.
Bonnie J. Hackbarth