Year of perseverance pays off for advocates of school tobacco ban in a county where raising tobacco was long a way of life

Clinton County in red (Wikipedia map)

A year of perseverance, education and community input by the local and district health departments paid off as the Clinton County Board of Education voted July 20 to make its schools 100 percent tobacco free, reports the Clinton County News.

Clinton County joins Somerset, Casey County, Adair County and Russell County as school districts in the Lake Cumberland District Health Department area with tobacco-free policies. The area was home to thousands of tobacco farmers, but there are only hundreds now, 11 years after the end of federal quotas and price supports.

It all began last year when the Clinton County board told Ashley Bridgman, health educator for the Wayne, Clinton and Cumberland County health departments, that they needed more education before they could vote on a tobacco-free school policy in their district, the newspaper reports.

Bridgman said this prompted her to look at other districts as a model for Clinton County and distribute surveys to help determine public opinion on the issue. The survey was part of a larger public opinion poll conducted by the district health department.

The poll found that 86.55 percent of the survey respondents in Clinton County were in favor of completely tobacco-free schools. It also asked, “Would you like to see our school become tobacco-free at all events?” Though this included athletic events, the results were basically the same: 85.3 percent said yes. The poll of 749 residents had an error margin of plus or minus 3.6 percentage points.

The poll also found that 77 percent of teachers said they would “definitely” support making the schools 100 percent tobacco-free.

“A lot of community members want this change in our schools,” Bridgman told the newspaper.

The health department presented the survey and other findings to the school board June 15. The board took no action, but five weeks later, on July 20, members unanimously made all schools 100 percent tobacco free starting at the beginning of the 2016-17 school year. The delay is meant to give the public more time to adjust to the new rule.

The county received a $14,000 tobacco-free campus grant to be used for a 12-month media campaign and public awareness program to inform the public about the Tobacco Free School program, which will be led by Bridgman. A similar campaign was set up in Casey County, which will go tobacco-free this school year.

Now that the policy has been approved, Bridgman told the paper, “There has been a lot of tears, but I’m very excited. It’s for the community, it’s for the kids, and it’s for the health, and that’s very important.”

As of June, 44 school districts, out of 173 in Kentucky, were entirely tobacco-free, according to the state’s “100% Tobacco Free Schools” website.

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