Our View: Lawmakers need to follow through with school tobacco bills

Kentucky legislators may have created more problems than they solved this year, but they still have a chance to do the right thing — twice — for the health of the state’s students.

The House and Senate both have one final opportunity on their last day — March 28 — to give final approval to bills that would reduce kids’ exposure to tobacco and nicotine products at school.

House Bill 11, the 2019 tobacco-free schools bill, would create a statewide ban on tobacco products in Kentucky’s public schools. The bill looked likely to die a few weeks ago, but has now cleared the House and passed two readings in the Senate. A third reading on the last day would send the bill to the governor’s desk.

Sen. Ralph Alvarado (R-Winchester), Gov. Matt Bevin’s running mate, told Melissa Patrick with Kentucky Health News that Bevin will sign the bill if the Senate passes it.

Only 42 percent of Kentucky’s schools are already tobacco-free, leaving a majority of students potentially exposed to tobacco use in a place where they’re supposed to be learning. Second-hand exposure can have negative health consequences, but perhaps more importantly, seeing adults use tobacco legitimizes the bad habit in kids’ minds, making it easier for them to give it a try and eventually become addicted themselves.

If it makes it all the way to Bevin’s desk, House Bill 11 will send a strong message and help build a healthy school culture for our current and future children.

Senate Bill 218 is in a similar position. It has passed the Senate and needs one more reading from the House to make it to Bevin.

SB 218 would create an anonymous tobacco hotline for students, who could easily report the distribution and use of tobacco products and e-cigarettes  at schools.

Vaping — smoking e-cigarettes — is an enormous but under-studied problem among teenagers today. E-cigarettes contain harmful substances just like cigarettes, as well as huge amounts of nicotine to get users addicted.

The hotline could help students be part of the solution, but only if lawmakers follow through.

Come March 28, we hope both bills get the final approvals they need.