The General Assembly is closer to prohibiting the use of tobacco products on school campuses across the state to promote health and steer kids away from traditional and electronic cigarettes.
A bill by northern Kentucky state Rep. Kim Moser crossed a hurdle Thursday when it passed out of a House committee, following testimony by health advocates and school representatives who talked about the importance of protecting children.
“We have to be able to model for them what is best, what is proper, what is appropriate,” said Mark Kopp, superintendent of the Franklin County Schools, which already has a similar policy in place. “We have a moral obligation to protect our students.”
House Bill 11 aims to stop students, school personnel and visitors from smoking and vaping in schools and on school property as well as in school vehicles and at school activities. The restriction would be enforced by local school boards and would go into effect by the 2020-2021 school year.
Moser, R-Taylor Mill, touted the bill at the House Health and Family Services Committee, which she chairs.
“We know that school is not the place for tobacco use,” she said. “… We really need to prevent the devastation of lung disease and lung cancer, especially in our Kentuckians, and really, it’s a good place to stop addiction where it starts.”
However, unlike some legislation in the past, the bill wouldn’t prohibit possession, such as a teacher having an e-cigarette in his or her purse, said Moser.
She added that the bill is backed by the Kentucky School Boards Association, the Kentucky Association of School Superintendents as well as the tobacco industry and the company that makes the trendy JUUL e-cigarette.
In fact, “we have the broadest support for this bill that we’ve ever had,” said Bonnie Hackbarth, who was representing the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky and the Coalition for a Smoke-Free Tomorrow, which both have promoted the legislation.
Hackbarth led off testimony in favor of the bill, which she called “a reasonable and commonsense answer to protecting our youth from the dangers of nicotine and tobacco.”
Hackbarth also spoke about what federal officials have called an epidemic of e-cigarette use by teens across the country, and she shared feedback gleaned from Kentucky students in focus groups.
“What we heard is that Kentucky youth are indeed mirroring what’s happening nationwide,” she said. “They’re telling us the use is pervasive. They think these products are safe. It’s the cool factor and the flavors that are drawing them in, and their teachers and their parents are clueless; they don’t know what’s going on because they’re so easy to conceal.”
Pat Withrow, a retired cardiologist from Paducah, talked about the addictive potential of e-cigarettes and how they can harm the developing adolescent brain. He also spoke about the fact that a pod can contain as much nicotine as a pack of cigarettes.
“I’ve seen some kids who are really serious about this; they can suck a whole pod empty in about three hits, so what a dose of nicotine,” said Withrow, who visits schools to educate youths.
He also noted that e-cigarettes can be used to deliver other substances, from bath salts to designer drugs.
Jake Patty, 18, of Mayfield High School talked about students pulling out their JUULs to vape when a teacher leaves the classroom. He also recalled the “sickening smell” of e-cigarette flavors co-mingling in the bathroom air.
“From the perspective of a high school senior who wants to see the commonwealth of Kentucky do better, please just do something about tobacco in our districts,” he pleaded with the committee.