Pioneer News, Shepherdsville, Dec. 5, 2016
Can’t smoke’em even if you got them
Policy prohibits smoking at any time on school grounds
By Thomas Barr
It was probably a rule that most thought had been in effect for years.
However, it wasn’t until recently that the Bullitt County Public School Board ruled that it was illegal to smoke on its properties — including during extra-curricular activities.
For Sarah Smith, the district’s safe and drug free schools coordinator, the new smoke-free policy is long overdue.
“Many people assumed that these policies mean that smoking was prohibited at all times,” said Smith. “This was not the case.”
She remembered a major push being led in 2011 for the smoke-free policy.
Under the existing regulations, all tobacco products by employees were prohibited in buildings or on school grounds. The exemption was during athletic events or other events.
Students were prohibited from using tobacco products at all times on school property.
Smith said those visiting the schools for athletic or other events were not prohibited from using tobacco products outside of the buildings.
During that push five years ago, it was also the time when a campaign was underway to make Bullitt County smoke free in public buildings. That led to a lawsuit between the health board and fiscal court.
"This time provided to be not a good moment for the smoke-free push (on school grounds),” said Smith.
This past summer, the time was right.
Smith said the school system worked with the Partners in Prevention, as well as the Kentucky Tobacco Prevention and Cessation Program, to raise awareness on various levels.
Liz McGuire, health education coordinator for the health department, told her board members at its November meeting about her agency’s efforts to pass out cards to educate the public about the policy and the need for the no-smoking stance.
Smith said the big picture is that the school system wants to make those attending events are made to feel comfortable.
“We are not asking for people to leave; we aren’t even asking for people to stop smoking or using tobacco,” Smith said of the new policy. “We are just sending a message that tobacco is not used on our property.”
Not only did the district board members receive information from local groups on the value of smoke-free campuses, the state commissioner of education also sent letters to each superintendent in Kentucky.
With a 2013 Kentucky Youth Risk Behavior Survey showing that smoking had decreased from 24.1 percent in 2011 to 17.9 percent two years later, the letter stated that having a smoke-free campus would show a commitment by school administrators, teachers and parents to provide a safe environment.
“Tobacco-free schools give adults the opportunity to be role models for tobacco-free lifestyles and to set the tone for reduced social acceptance of tobacco use,” said Smith. “Studies show that students in tobacco-free schools are less likely to start smoking.”
She said that 31 percent of the state’s school districts have smoke-free policies. That represents over 46 percent of the students statewide.
Superintendent Keith Davis said the trend statewide is to be to the tobacco-free campus policy.
Enforcement of the policy will remain the key.
Davis said he has informed school administrators to “politely inform patrons” of the board policy. But there is no desire to become confrontational or aggressive, he added.
Many discussions were held on the enforcement portion of the policy, said Smith.
“We are approaching this as an educational piece and cultural shift to start with,” said Smith. “We do not want to be punitive but we also wish for our community to understand that Bullitt County Public Schools has a 100 percent 24/7 effort to make decisions as to what is the healthiest, safest and set for our students in Bullitt County.”
She said tobacco free and healthy lifestyles are taught in the classrooms and this should also be the behavior on school grounds and during extracurricular events, as well.
“There should be no mixed messages with the tobacco-free messages,” said Smith.