(FRANKFORT, Ky - January 22, 2019) Kentucky students, superintendents and health advocates rallied in Frankfort today, urging lawmakers to help reduce youth tobacco use by making all Kentucky schools 100 percent tobacco-free. Supporters were joined by champions of companion bills in the House and Senate, Rep. Kim Moser and Sen. Ralph Alvarado, who urged their colleagues to support and protect youth and teens by enacting this youth health measure.
Speakers addressed the skyrocketing rates of teen "juuling" and vaping as well as newfound support from superintendents and school boards as impetus for passing a tobacco-free schools law in Kentucky in 2019.
House Bill 11 and Senate Bill 27 would bar the use of tobacco products both on and in property owned by Kentucky school districts. The law would apply to all persons at all times while on campus, including vehicles owned by the district anywhere they travel and vehicles while they are on school property. It also would apply to events on school-owned property 24/7.
"Tobacco-free schools policies set a healthy example for students by de-normalizing tobacco use at school, where our children and teens spend a third of their waking hours," said Rep. Kim Moser of Taylor Mill, who introduced House Bill 11.
"Most tobacco use starts while kids are still school-aged, a time when their brains are still developing and nicotine can hinder that development and cause lasting damage," said Sen. Ralph Alvarado of Winchester, who introduced Senate Bill 27 (cosponsored by Sen. Stephen Meredith of Leitchfield).
The rally was organized by the Coalition for a Smoke-Free Tomorrow, which has made a statewide tobacco-free schools law its highest current priority.
Coalition Chair Ben Chandler said, "We have to act now to recover progress in reducing teen tobacco use that we've already lost due to the sudden explosion in teen vaping. We're coming up on half of Kentucky's school districts that already have enacted these policies to reduce tobacco use by teens and to protect them from the significant health dangers of secondhand smoke and e-cigarette aerosol. Now is the time to extend those protections statewide, before we lose any more ground." Chandler also is president/CEO of the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky, a founding member of the Coalition, which now comprises some 180 organizations across the state working to reduce tobacco use in Kentucky.
Reducing Youth Tobacco Use in Kentucky
According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), 90 percent of tobacco use starts by age 18; Kentucky's youth tobacco use rates significantly exceed national averages. The 2017 Youth Behavior Risk Survey (YBRS) for Kentucky found that 26 percent of high school students (compared to 19.5 percent nationally) and 7.6 percent of middle schools students used a tobacco product in 2017. Also in 2017, 14.1 percent of Kentucky high school students (compared to 13.2 percent nationwide) and 3.9 percent of middle school students used e-cigarettes.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released the latest nationwide numbers for 2018 e-cigarette use in November. The agency said one in five high schoolers and one in 20 middle schoolers are now using e-cigarettes in the United States. These numbers represent a 78 percent increase for high schoolers and a 48 percent increase for middle schoolers in less than a year. FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb has called this explosion in youth e-cigarette use an epidemic.
While 2018 numbers are not available yet for Kentucky, the results of focus group discussions with high school students in McCracken, Clay, Monroe, Campbell and Jefferson Counties, released by the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky and Kentucky Youth Advocates in December, indicate that Kentucky youth are mirroring the disturbing national trend.
Tobacco-free schools laws reduce both teen tobacco use and exposure to secondhand smoke from cigarettes and aerosol from e-cigarettes and vapes. In Kentucky, 42 percent of school districts covering 57 percent of students have enacted 100 percent tobacco-free schools policies.
"Many issues that confront the Kentucky General Assembly are complex and complicated; the issue of tobacco-free schools is not one of them," said Dr. Terry Brooks, executive director of Kentucky Youth Advocates. "It is, in fact, a no-brainer for those elected leaders committed to kids. Every young person deserves protections against exposure to secondhand smoke and to the dangerously high nicotine levels of e-cigarettes. Strong school campus policies on a statewide basis deliver those kinds of safeguards for all kids in every school. This is an issue that should move ahead with speed, ease and consensus. There is no excuse or rationale for any other outcome."
Broad Support for Statewide Tobacco-Free Schools Bill
The Kentucky School Boards Association (KSBA) and the Kentucky Association of School Superintendents recently announced they support a statewide smoke-free law.
"Student health and safety is important for KSBA, local school board members and district leaders," said Kerri Schelling, Executive Director of the Kentucky School Boards Association. "We have cautiously waited to see how effective and workable these policies have been in the numerous districts that have adopted them. We believe the policies are working because enforcement has been crafted to fit each district's needs, an approach which will continue with HB 11 and SB 27."
The Kentucky Health Issues Poll (KHIP), jointly sponsored by the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky and Interact for Health, found that 87 percent of Kentucky adults support a statewide tobacco-free schools bill. The support came from across the political spectrum, including 89 percent of Democrats, 87 percent of Republicans and 82 percent of Independents.
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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, Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky, Humana, Kentucky Cancer Foundation, Kentucky Center for Smoke-Free Policy, 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 180 groups, including Kentucky business leaders, health advocates, health care providers and payers, educators, and faith community leaders.
Bonnie J. Hackbarth