This post originally appeared as an op-ed in the Northern Kentucky Tribune on March 25, 2019. 

By Ben Chandler, Terry Brooks, Kerri Shelling, Jack Hillard, David Adkisson

Kentucky students need a statewide tobacco-free schools law to protect them from secondhand smoke, e-cigarette aerosol and tobacco product messaging at school. Nearly 60 percent of Kentucky kids attend schools that do not have such policies, so they smell, breathe and otherwise absorb tobacco emissions and messaging during the school day, after-school and after school events.

Most of the schools that have already adopted these policies are located in larger, urban areas of Kentucky. It’s time to pass House Bill 11, to enact a statewide policy so every Kentucky K-12 public school student has the opportunity to learn in a tobacco-free environment.

Tobacco-free schools policies are proven to reduce peer pressure among adolescents and teens to use tobacco and, in turn, keep kids from trying and becoming addicted to the nicotine in cigarettes, vapes and other tobacco products. About 90 percent of tobacco use starts in the teen years, so HB11 is about stopping nicotine addiction during youth, when it can permanently damage the developing brain and impair mood, impulse control and learning.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that one in five high schoolers now uses e-cigarettes, such as Juul or other vaporized nicotine products. Teens often call school bathrooms “juuling rooms.”

Youth tobacco use, which had been declining for decades, is suddenly rising again. Focus groups of teens in rural and urban school districts around Kentucky elicited numerous anecdotes illustrating that what the CDC is seeing nationwide is also prevalent right here in the Commonwealth.

Moreover, Kentucky’s youth tobacco use rates were much higher than the national rates before the current e-cig epidemic. Neither our children’s health nor our state budget can afford the expensive tab – in terms of disease, death and health care costs – that failure to address this youth vaping epidemic is quickly running up.

HB11 passed the Kentucky House on an 85-11 vote and awaits Senate action on March 28.

For the health of our children, this should be an easy “yes” vote.

Ben Chandler is president/CEO of the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky. Terry Brooks is executive director of Kentucky Youth Advocates. Kerri Shelling is executive director of the Kentucky School Boards Association. Jack Hillard is executive director of the Kentucky Cancer Foundation. David Adkisson is president/CEO of the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce.