Last year the Kentucky legislature passed HB 11, a “statewide Tobacco Free School bill.” This year the Carter County public school system will be taking steps to comply with that bill.
This means no more tobacco of any sort on any Carter County school campus. No cigarettes. No snuff. No chewing tobacco. No vaping. Nada. Zip.
Staff won’t be allowed to smoke in their vehicles in the parking lot before or after school. Visitors to the schools will also be asked not to bring any tobacco products with them, or to use tobacco in school parking lots or anywhere on school property.
This also extends to any chaperones accompanying students on school-sponsored overnight trips. Band parents, football and basketball boosters, the mothers of cheerleaders, and any other adult working with students will be asked to refrain from any and all tobacco use for the duration of the trip.
We know that, for some, this is going to be a tough sale. Kentucky is historically a tobacco producing state. Many of us earned extra cash as teenagers working in the tobacco fields. And tobacco, as a cash crop, is still important to many Kentuckians, even if it’s less important to the state economy as a whole than it once was.
Along with this tobacco culture, though, came a lax attitude about youthful tobacco use. For years Kentuckians had no minimum age for tobacco purchase. It wasn’t until 1990 that the state set a minimum age of 16 for tobacco purchases. In 1992 that legal age was raised to 18, though many outlets continued to turn a blind eye to underage tobacco purchases and use. The 18 limit has stayed in place since, but in January of this year a bill that would raise the age to 21 passed out of committee into the Kentucky Senate. It remains to be seen what will happen with this bill.
Past bills seeking to raise the age for tobacco and nicotine product use have been stymied by tobacco friendly legislators. But despite this, concerns about youthful smoking, chewing, and, particularly, vaping have grown.
Those critical of youth vaping often criticize the fruity and other “sweet” flavors that vaping juice concoctions regularly have. They seem designed specifically to appeal to youth consumers. If this sounds familiar, it’s because it is. The FDA took action to ban flavored cigarettes in 2009, partially because of their supposed appeal to youth consumers. (Many producers got around this ban, however, by changing their “cigarettes” to “mini cigars” or “cigarillos.”)
As an adult, it may be frustrating to find that you can’t find a product that you want to use. It may also be frustrating to find that you can’t use those products, even in the privacy of your own vehicle – or outside on a hotel balcony – when engaged in a school related activity. We understand this frustration. After all, adults can make informed decisions about what to put into their bodies.
Children, however, even the brightest children, can’t make those same informed decisions. Peer pressure, social pressure, and media and entertainment sources all make an oversized impact on the choices of our youth, and they need to see good modeling if we expect them to follow it.
It may frustrate adult tobacco users, but our children need them to be positive role models. When they hear teachers tell them to avoid tobacco use, and then see those teachers and other adults in their lives using tobacco in their automobiles, or outside a restaurant on a school trip, it sends mixed messages. If we want our kids to make the choices that are best for their health, and their future, we need to be the adults. We need to make that sacrifice for their benefit.
It may not be what we want to do. It may not be easy for us to do. But it’s necessary. And now it’s the rule when you go on school property.
We commend the Carter County public school system for following the recommendations of the state legislature, and ensuring that teachers, principals and chaperones will be providing a good example when engaged in school business or on school property. When our kids grow up without the breathing problems and lip, throat, and lung cancer that accompany tobacco use, we think they’ll thank them too.