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Burgin Ind. students asks for tobacco-free campus, make case by marking 1,000 cigarette butts tossed on school grounds; board to consider issue next month...

Harrodsburg Herald, Feb. 19, 2015

Will Burgin Be First To Go Smoke-Free?
Up In Smoke Update: Burgin and Frankfort
by Robert Moore

Despite all the smoke and mirrors, warriors against tobacco use are still battling to save Kentucky one building at a time.

On Feb. 8, members of the Burgin chapter of Teens Against Tobacco Use (TATU) spent Saturday morning planting orange flags everywhere they found cigarette butts on school grounds. The group went through 1,000 flags in 45 minutes. They had barely covered half the campus.

The pictures they took became part of a Powerpoint presentation that TATU gave at the Burgin Board of Education meeting on Wednesday, Feb. 11, asking the school district to go tobacco free. They mixed information gathered online with anecdotes drawn from their own lives to make their case.

TATU member Elizabeth Adams, a junior and softball player, told the board that she’d been forced to leave the ball field during a game last year after suffering an allergic reaction to cigarette smoke from the stands. Adams called tobacco a liability issue and said that going tobacco-free would lower insurance costs. She also pointed out that studies conducted in North Carolina after a statewide tobacco-ban at schools showed a 40 percent increase in attendance at sporting events.

Adams and her co-presenter, TATU President Cooper Shearer, asked what kind of message the school was sending students. All of the school's tobacco use policies pertain to students, while adults were allowed to smoke freely everywhere except inside the school building.

"Students see other people using tobacco products and smoking and they think it’s the right thing to do," Shearer said.

Adams noted that at schools that go totally tobacco free, studies show that 40 percent fewer students start using tobacco.

When the subject of enforcement, came up, the students showed the board members cards used by the Franklin County and Paris schools, and noted that the Mercer County Health Department (MCHD) would pay for signs to be posted around the campus notifying visitors of the policy.

"The policy is self enforcing," said Emily Steer, tobacco prevention and cessation specialist at MCHD. Steer told the board she would come to school to give smoking cessation classes for employees who smoked. She said studies show that when tobacco-free policies go into effect, 10 percent of employees quit smoking.

Currently, 37 schools in Kentucky — including Boyle County — prohibit all tobacco use, including vapor products and alternative nicotine products, by staff, students and visitors on school property and during school-sponsored trips and activities. However, neither Burgin nor Mercer County Schools have adopted the policy.

"Why can't we lead? Why can't we be first?" Adams asked.

The board praised the presentation and said they would discuss the issue and add it to their agenda for a vote at their next meeting.

The kids from TATU had already had a busy day. That morning, they — and members of the TATU chapter from Mercer County Senior High — journeyed to Frankfort to lobby on behalf of House Bill 145, which requires smokers to move at least 15 feet away from shared workplaces and public indoor places before lighting up.

The students met with State Representative Kim King, a Republican who has previously told The Harrodsburg Herald, "If they want to make Kentucky smoke-free, they should make tobacco an illegal substance."

King was happy to be photographed with the TATU group, but made it clear that she is still against the ban. King’s fellow Republican, State Senator Tom Buford, told the students that he supports the law so long as there are no amendments added that would weaken local smoking bans already in effect, like those in Louisville and Lexington.

Thanks in part to lobbying by groups like TATU, the bill passed 51-46 on Friday, Feb. 13, with nine Republicans joining 42 Democrats to pass it. King voted against the bill.

However, it is widely expected that the smoking ban will not pass in the G.O.P.-controlled Senate, despite support from Buford and other prominent Republicans.

"I don't see there being that type of support in the Senate to pass a bill like that," Senate President Robert Stivers, a Republican, told The Associated Press.

A Kentucky Health Issues Poll from last fall found that 66 percent of Kentucky adults favored the ban.

Kentucky still leads the nation in tobacco use (24.8 percent of adults and 24.3 percent of pregnant mothers) and deaths from tobacco use (20 percent of all deaths in the state are attributed to smoking-related causes, mainly cancer, cardiovascular and respiratory diseases).

However, until something changes in the state legislature, schools like Burgin will be the most important battlegrounds in the fight against tobacco-related deaths.

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