By Melissa Patrick
Kentucky Health News
FRANKFORT, Ky. — A statewide smoking ban in Kentucky schools is still almost a year away, but passage of it appears to have prompted most school districts to go ahead and adopt tobacco-free policies. And they’re getting some help in telling students, teachers and campus visitors about it.
The law passed this year prohibits the use of all tobacco products, including electronic cigarettes, on school-owned property and school-sponsored events in all Kentucky schools, effective July 1, 2020. School boards have three years to opt out of the ban, but the law appears to be making them opt in.
When the bill became law, only 72 of the state’s 172 school districts, of 42 percent, were fully tobacco-free. As of Aug. 9, that number was up to 129, about 75% of the districts and 79% of students, with more to be added soon.
The law also requires schools to post signs, but provides no funding for signage. The Kentucky Medical Association, the Kentucky Foundation for Medical Care and the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky have created signs in consultation with the Kentucky School Boards Association. and are offering them to districts that adopted tobacco-free policies after the law passed.
“We know that placing readily recognizable tobacco-free signs on campuses across this state will remind students, staff and entire communities that tobacco use has no place anytime or anywhere at school,” Ben Chandler, president and CEO of the health foundation, said at a Frankfort news conference.
Chandler said districts that adopted tobacco-free policies after April 9, when the bill became law, can get the indoor, outdoor and vehicle signs on a first-come, first-serve basis.
In January 2020, if supplies remain, the signage will be offered to all school districts, including those that had previously passed tobacco-free school policies.
The focus of concern about students and tobacco has shifted from traditional cigarettes to electronic cigarettes. More than one in four high-school seniors in Kentucky reported last year that they had used e-cigarettes, and experts say that is part of a national epidemic.
Testimony from students during the legislative session helped persuade many of the lawmakers about the need for a tobacco-free school law, and two students reiterated that at the news conference.
“This is a very real problem,” said Abbi Stratton, a senior at Graves County High School in far Western Kentucky. “It has definitely increased over the course of my freshman to my senior year.”
Stratton and another senior, Kendall Tubbs, said Graves County passed its tobacco-free school policy after Aug. 9, making it the 130th district to do so.
“Usage has become a social norm,” he said. “Even when class is going on, kids are always vaping.”
“Vaping” is a term popularized by the electronic-cigarette industry. Actually, e-cigarettes produce an an aerosol, which is a suspension of particles in a gas; a vapor is “a substance in the gaseous state as distinguished from the liquid or solid state,” the Merriam-Webster dictionary says.
|Kendall Tubbs, Abbi Stratton and Ben Chandler spoke
about a program to provide free signage to schools that
adopted tobacco-free policies after passage of the law.
“E-cigs are chock-full of nicotine and poisons that are addicting and sickening our kids,” Chandler said. “So let’s call them what they are — tobacco products — and let’s keep them away from our kids.”
KMA President Bruce Scott said the surge of e-cigarette use among Kentucky’s teens is creating a new generation of nicotine addicts.
“When you consider the fact that 90 percent of adult smokers started smoking before age 18, we have an imperative to make sure that we stop smoking and convince every high school student never to pick up a cigarette or tobacco product in the first place,” he said.
An order form and information about the signage can be found on the Tobacco-Free for Students website, www.tobaccofreestudents.org.