Our View: Clark schools leading way to be smoke-free

It is encouraging to see locally-led legislation that would make all public schools tobacco free, but it is even more exciting to see that those laws likely won’t even be necessary here in Clark County.

State Sen. Ralph Alvarado, a Republican from right here in Winchester who is also a physician, sponsored Senate Bill 78, a measure that would prohibit the use of tobacco products on any public school property and at any school-sponsored activity.

The bill would include students, school employees and visitors, taking effect no later than the 2018-2019 school year if adopted by the General Assembly.

Thankfully, most Clark County schools are ahead of the game.

The Clark County Health Department has already been working with the individual schools in the community to adopt tobacco-free policies through their site-based, decision-making councils.

So far, all the schools have passed tobacco-free plans for their campuses except for Justice, Conkwright and the preschool, and the health department is hoping for those to follow suit before the end of the school year.

The health department’s long-term goal is to see the entire district go tobacco free. Once all the schools change their policies, health department officials will ask the school board to officially pass a tobacco-free policy that encompasses the entire district.

Although tobacco use among youth has declined in recent years, it remains a significant health concern in Kentucky and across the nation.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “if smoking continues at the current rate among youth in this country, 5.6 million of today’s Americans younger than 18 will die early from a smoking-related illness. That’s about 1 of every 13 Americans aged 17 years or younger alive today.”

Extensive data shows that tobacco use starts during adolescence.

“Nearly 9 out of 10 smokers first tried a cigarette before the age of 18, and 99 percent first tried smoking by age 26,” according to the CDC.

“Each day in the United States, more than 3,200 youth below the age of 18 years smoke their first cigarette, and an additional 2,100 youth and young adults become daily cigarette smokers.”

Early education and intervention are critical, and our community must do everything possible to let our youth know the dangers of tobacco use.

We applaud Sen. Alvarado’s efforts to take this initiative statewide, but we are even more proud Clark County is taking the challenge to lead by example.