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State pushing school boards to full campus tobacco bans

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By Phyllis McLaughlin

State education and public health officials have joined forces to encourage school districts to implement policies that would prohibit the use of tobacco anywhere on school-owned property – 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

A letter from Education Commissioner Terry Holliday and Public Health Commissioner William D. Hacker, M.D., sent to superintendents statewide, encourages districts to pass the policy as “the right thing to do for the health of your schools and communities.”

According to the letter, a 2003 study showed that students are more likely to smoke in locations where they see other students or adults smoking, and stated that another study shows about 10 percent of Kentucky high school students reported smoking at least one or more cigarettes on school property during the past 30 days.

Pair that with the 2009 Kentucky Youth Risk Behavior Survey, which found that six out of 10 high school students statewide have tried smoking at least once, and the need to go completely tobacco-free is clear, said Becky Wilson, a health nurse with Carroll County’s Three Rivers District Health Department.

Both the Trimble County and Carroll County school districts have long-standing indoor tobacco-free policy in place, with smoking prohibited inside any school building and district-owned vehicle.

But so far, neither board has discussed the state’s initiative to completely prohibit tobacco use on school campuses.

Superintendent Marcia Haney Dunaway said Monday that she and the board have not yet discussed the initiative, which would prohibit anyone from smoking or using any tobacco products at any school-related event, including outdoor ballgames.

But, as coordinator of Trimble CARES (Communities Assessing Resources and Education on Substance abuse), Marla Fetterhoff said she is in favor of implementing the 100 percent tobacco ban. “I think that’s a great thing. ... We are hoping to go that route.”

Regionally, only the Board of Education for Eminence Independent Schools has discussed implementing the tobacco-free schools policy.

“It’s a positive initiative for the district,” school nurse Belinda Stivers said in a phone interview last week. “Everyone’s goal is the same: We want [students] to be learning in the best environment possible, and we want them to be safe and healthy.”

Stivers presented the initiative to the Board of Education at its meeting last week, and said she was pleased with the response from board members. “The board was very positive and supportive; but of course, we have to go through a process” to establish the policy in the district.

In addition to eliminating health risks associated with tobacco use – cancers, lung and heart disease, etc. – Stivers said going completely tobacco-free also is important for children who suffer from asthma. Second-hand smoke can trigger an asthma attack, which can be severe.

 “We have worked hard to create an asthma-friendly environment in the schools,” Stivers said, which has resulted in fewer asthma-related absences. “Health is not always a priority at other districts, but it is a priority here.”

The buildings in the Eminence district have been tobacco-free for some time, but there have been outdoor areas where smoking has been allowed, said Superintendent Buddy Berry. The new policy “would be for outdoors, anywhere on school property,” and would apply to students and staff throughout the school day. Additionally, it would apply to everyone attending any event on school property in the evenings or on weekends, including ball games.

If the policy were implemented in the district, Berry said, smokers would be required to leave school property, perhaps going next door to KFC or Taco Bell, if they needed a cigarette.

“We would allow fans who smoke to leave and re-enter games. We’d be very accommodating,” he said.