Rep. Kim Moser of Kenton County receives congratulations after the Senate passes House Bill 11.

Advocates of tobacco-free schools are celebrating the passage of House Bill 11, which got approved on the last day of the 2019 regular session of the Kentucky General Assembly.

Senators applauded the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Kim Moser, R-Taylor Mill, after the passage of the bill, which will prohibit the use of any tobacco product, alternative nicotine product or vapor product, such as electronic and regular cigarettes, on school campuses, in school vehicles and during school-related activities.

The legislation, which will apply to youth as well as adults, such as employees and volunteers, sends “a very positive message” to students, Moser said by phone. “I think it sets a great example” and establishes the expectation that public elementary, middle and high schools will be tobacco-free.

But school boards can opt out of the ban all together if they do so within the first three years, and adults can still use tobacco products on school trips when students aren’t present.

The bill passed 28-10 in the Senate despite some arguments against it, including that it might infringe on school bus drivers’ ability to use a legal product, such as smokeless tobacco or “chew,” on break time.

Sen. Ralph Alvarado, R-Winchester, led off the discussion by reading off several of the ways in which tobacco is a health and economic burden for the state of Kentucky and said that a strongly enforced tobacco-free schools policy could prevent or delay students from using tobacco and lifelong addiction.

This bill “is a beginning attempt to help reduce our youth smoking rates in Kentucky,” Alvarado said. “… It’s time for Kentucky to step up to the plate and to protect its children.”

Sen. John Schickel, R-Union, opposed the bill, saying it was the very definition of government overreach and that legislators should not be dictating to local communities on such matters. He also said that it was unnecessary since school boards already can set their own tobacco-free policies.

“This legislation is well intended,” he said. But “I cannot support this and I urge the members not to support it.”

However, Alvarado noted that only 42 percent of Kentucky school districts are tobacco-free.

School boards are to have written policies in place by July 1, 2020, and to post signage about the ban.

The bill heads to Gov. Matt Bevin for his signature and was applauded by several groups, including the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky and Kentucky Youth Advocates.

“Kentucky kids won big today (March 28), especially those living in many of our rural communities where the majority of schools without tobacco-free policies are located,” said a statement from the foundation on behalf of various supporters. “…The bill was critically important this year because of the explosive growth in teen vaping and e-cigarette use.”