A publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Foundation for Healthy Kentucky urges public school districts to move ahead on tobacco-free campuses

Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky CEO Ben Chandler is urging the 64 percent of Kentucky public school districts that aren’t yet tobacco-free to move forward to protect students, now that a bill is headed to the Kentucky senate.

In a letter sent to superintendents statewide, Chandler said Kentucky children deserve to go to school in environments where their learning isn’t impaired from breathing second-hand smoke and they aren’t influenced by the example of adults who use tobacco. A bill passed unanimously out of the Senate Education Committee is a good reason to get the process under way, Chandler said today, praising the bill’s sponsors, Sens. Ralph Alvarado and Julie Raque Adams, and the rest of the committee members.
“As a nonpartisan, nonprofit foundation working to improve the health of Kentuckians, we know that eliminating exposure to second-hand smoke in the buildings and on the grounds where our children spend a third of their young lives will protect them from the dangers of tobacco today, while also reducing the chances that they will start smoking tomorrow,” Chandler added.

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A tobacco-free schools bill is a cancer-prevention bill, he said. Smoking is tied to nearly 29 percent of all cancer deaths, yet Kentucky has the highest adult smoking rate and the second highest youth smoking rate in the nation. And “not incidentally,” Chandler said, we also have “the highest death rate from cancer.” A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in January 2017 found that, while cancer mortality nationwide declined 20 percent from 1980 to 2014, deaths from cancer rose significantly in many Kentucky counties during that time.
Just about half of Kentucky’s public school students are protected by tobacco-free policies that have been enacted by 36 percent of the state’s school districts.  Senate Bill 78, approved unanimously by the Senate Education Committee on Feb. 9, would require the remaining districts to enact tobacco-free campus policies by the beginning of the 2018-2019 school year.
Chandler encouraged school districts to get ahead of the bill and enact policies now. Tobacco-free policies reduce smoking and, in turn will reduce cancer as well as other diseases associated with or exacerbated by smoking, such as heart disease and asthma. Asthma accounts for millions of missed school and work days every year, he said.
Moreover, the vast majority of Kentucky adults support tobacco-free schools, Chandler added. The Foundation’s annual Kentucky Health Issues Poll (KHIP) found that 85 percent of Kentucky adults support tobacco-free schools.
“The chances for this bill look promising, and it’s got the support of Kentucky behind it, so there’s no reason to wait,” Chandler said today. 
A copy of Chandler’s letter to superintendents can be found here.

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