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Ky. Health Advocates Credit New Law For Rise In Tobacco-Free Schools

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The Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky says a new law that went into effect this year has helped increase the number of schools in the state that are now tobacco-free. Kentucky lawmakers earlier this year passed a law banning students, employees and volunteers from using any tobacco products -- including e-cigarettes -- on school grounds or during school events. 

Data from the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky released last week show that prior to passage of the new law, 74 school districts had policies banning vaping or e-cigarettes. Now, an additional 74 districts have taken up the policy, a total of 84 percent of public school districts in Kentucky. Enforcement of the law is left up to schools.

Ben Chandler, the president of the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky, said the uptick in the number of schools going smoke-free is “remarkable.”

“It just sends a signal and changes the norms if all the school districts become tobacco-free,” Chandler said. “Now that so many have, it's going to be difficult for some of the outliers to refuse. I mean, they stand out like a sore thumb.”

Schools have until July 2020 to comply. They can choose to opt out of the law for up to three years.  

That’s what officials with Union County Public Schools in western Kentucky did. This year, Union County banned vaping in schools, but not on field trips or at sporting events, according to Assistant Superintendent Brian Lovell. He said the school board wanted more time to train staff in enforcing the policy away from the school setting. 

“And how to diplomatically go about doing that, you know, redirecting someone's smoking on someone else's property,” Lovell said. “We just felt like we needed time to take a measured approach to this and be deliberately conscious about how we move forward.”

Lovell said the district doesn’t plan on opting out for the next school year and is working with the local health department on language to inform the community and on training staff.

“We very much want to become a tobacco-free campus that we feel like we need to take a real measured approach, and make sure that our community and parents and students all understand what that process looks like, and what's expected of them at the games,” Lovell said. 

Lovell said his district just recently started seeing a big rise in students using vapes in the past few years, which follows a nationwide trend. In 2017, about 14 percent of Kentucky high schoolers reported vaping, and by 2018, 27 percent of high schoolers reporting having tried vaping, according to surveys by the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky. ‘

Lisa Gillespie is WFPL's Health and Innovation Reporter.

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