Bevin signs bill making all Ky. school property and events free of tobacco and e-cigs by July 2020, unless school boards opt out

By Melissa Patrick
Kentucky Health News

Gov. Matt Bevin has signed into law to ban the use of tobacco products in all Kentucky public schools and events, a policy that has taken several years to pass. It will take effect July 1, 2020.

Rep. Kim Moser

“It’s not only going to help kids become less addicted in the future and improve overall health, but I think it will actually improve the light in which Kentucky is looked upon as a healthy state,” said state Rep. Kim Moser, the bill’s sponsor. “I really feel like this is a step in the right direction and I just think the messaging is so critical, especially for kids.”

Moser, a Republican form Taylor Mill in Northern Kentucky, said it’s important to recognize that e-cigarettes and other tobacco products not only create what are often life-long addictions to the nicotine, they also can prime the adolescent brain for addiction to other drugs.

Moser and Sen. Ralph Alvarado, Bevin’s running mate for lieutenant governor and a longtime advocate for tobacco-free schools, said the alarming increase in teenagers’ electronic cigarette use in the last year was likely the main reason the bill was able to pass this year.

“The more people started realizing what a problem this is, I think that really shed a lot of light on this whole tobacco-use issue,” Moser said.

Sen. Ralph Alvarado

Alvarado, a Winchester physician, credited a group of Johnson County Middle School students for educating legislators on the rampant use of e-cigarettes in schools. Among other things, they told them that some students have become so addicted to the nicotine that they can’t even make it through one class without going to the bathroom to use a device.

The most popular device for teens, made by Juul Labs, is easy to hide because it looks like a large computer flash drive. One Juul pod has the equivalent of a pack of cigarettes, and some kids are going through about eight a day, Alvarado told lawmakers on the Senate floor.

The students were actually pushing a Senate bill that would have created an anonymous hotline for students to report concerns about e-cigs and tobacco use . The bill \made it all the way to the House floor, but wasn’t called up for a vote. Alvarado, who presented the tobacco-free schools bill in the Senate, said he planned on inviting the students to the ceremonial signing of the bill because of the role they played in getting it passed.

“I think they gave everybody a little insight on what happens in the classroom, what happens on school grounds,” he said. “I think they also had an instrumental part in being able to open some folks eyes in terms of how big this problem is becoming with vaping and tobacco use in our schools.”

The tobacco-free schools measure, House Bill 11, prohibits the use of all tobacco products, including electronic cigarettes, on school-owned property and school-sponsored events in all Kentucky schools. Tobacco use will be permitted on field trips that are off school property if students are not present.

The bill does not ban the possession of tobacco products, just their use. Enforcement is also left up to individual school boards. School boards have also been given three years to opt out of the ban.

As of July 2018, only 42 percent of the Kentucky’s 173 school districts have 100% tobacco free school policies, covering 57% of the state’s students, and many of them have not updated their policy to meet new standards for electronic cigarettes.

“Up to 225,000 more Kentucky students will be protected from secondhand cigarette smoke and e-cigarette aerosol at school thanks to the tobacco-free schools bill,” Bonnie Hackbarth, vice-president of external affairs for the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky, said in a news release.

Moser said it took “many voices’ to get this “positive piece of legislation” passed, and expressed her gratitude for them all. “I’m just excited for Kentucky,” she said. “Looking forward, I think every step we take toward improving our health is a good step for Kentucky.”