Thursday, November 16, 2017

Casey County High School students win award for their smoke-free efforts; 17 percent of Kentucky's youth are smokers

The Casey Youth Coalition won the health foundation's first
Healthy Policy Champion Award for its smoke-free efforts.
A group of 19 Casey County High School students are the first recipients of the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky's Healthy Kentucky Policy Champion award for their work to change the smoking culture at their school.

"The Casey Youth Coalition has been working for two years to boost adherence to the district's 2015 tobacco-free campus policy, and this award recognizes their unrelenting efforts to change social norms about tobacco use," Ben Chandler, president and CEO of the foundation, said in a news release.

The students' campaign has contributed to a 10 percent decrease in 30-day tobacco use among its 10th graders in 2016, the release said.

"All of us are extremely proud of all we have accomplished because the school's environment has changed," Delaney Sowders, vice president of the coalition, said in the release. "There's no tobacco smell when you enter our school. That has been a long-time problem. It took a lot of our time, commitment, ideas from a diverse group of students, support from our champions and funding, to accomplish this. We still need to work on the community's tobacco use on our campus."

Below is a video created by the Casey County Youth Coalition to instruct other school districts about passing and implementing a 100 percent smoke-free policy in their schools.

Casey County is one of the state's 68 (out of 173) school districts with a 100 percent tobacco-free school policy. As of November 2017, 39 percent of districts have such policies and 55 percent of the state's students are protected from second-hand smoke.

Schools get this distinction if they don't allow tobacco products, including vapor products and alternative nicotine products, by staff, students and visitors at any time on school owned property and during school sponsored events. The 100 percent tobacco-free school website notes that some of the schools need to update their policies to meet the new vapor product standards.

A bill in the 2016 legislative session would have required all Kentucky schools to be 100 percent tobacco-free. It passed quickly out of the Senate, but couldn't garner enough support in the House to bring it to a floor vote. Sen. Ralph Alvarado of Winchester told Kentucky Health News in September that he plans to sponsor the bill again in the upcoming session, and anticipates a similar one to be introduced in the House, where his fellow Republicans gained control this year.

Elizabeth Anderson-Hoagland, a youth tobacco specialist with the state Department for Public Health, said she encourages local school districts to pass 100 percent tobacco-free school policies, despite what happens at the state level.

"It is really beneficial for local communities to take the steps to pass a local tobacco-free district policy," she said in an e-mail. "The process engages students, parents, personnel and community in a discussion about tobacco use and how the community can best protect their young people."

Most Kentuckians support such policies. According to the foundation's 2015 Kentucky Health Issues Poll, 85 percent of Kentucky adults favor tobacco-free schools.

Almost 17 percent of Kentucky's high-school students are smokers and 23 percent of them report using electronic cigarettes, according to the 2015 Youth Risk Behavior Survey. The 2016 national rate for smoking is 8 percent and 11.3 percent for electronic cigarettes, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The Casey Youth Coalition is now eligible for the Healthy Kentucky Policy Champion of the Year award, which comes with a $5,000 grant from the foundation given to a Kentucky-based nonprofit of the winner's choice. The winner of that award will be announced next fall. Nominations for the Healthy Kentucky Policy Champion award are accepted at any time. Click here for details.

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