Our View: Time for schools to go tobacco-free

What would you think if Kentucky decided to allow a dangerous drug that’s highly addictive to be used at our state’s public schools?

Not interested, you say? But wait — what if we told you it’s a really popular drug that many kids are using illicitly? And dealers of the drug are notorious for marketing to teens in order to get them hooked young?

You’re still opposed? Well, that sets you apart from the Kentucky House of Representatives.

The drug we’re talking about isn’t alcohol or opioids. But it is just as addictive if not more so and kills close to half a million people in the U.S. every year. And it’s legal to use it in more than half of Kentucky’s public schools.

It’s tobacco.

House Bill 11 would make every public school campus in Kentucky a smoke-free, tobacco-free zone. You might think that would already be the case, decades after the fatal dangers and intense addictiveness of tobacco were already know — but it’s 2019 and only 42 percent of Kentucky’s schools are tobacco-free.

HB 11 is common-sense legislation that’s way overdue, but it’s been sitting in the House awaiting a vote since Feb. 11. The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Kim Moser (R-Taylor Mill) has now filed an amendment that Kentucky Health News calls a “last-ditch compromise” in an attempt to get the bill passed before this year’s general session ends.

The amendment would allow school districts to opt out of protecting their students from tobacco for up to three years.

“There was an argument that it took the local option away and this gives them that option back,” Moser told KHN. “… I still think it is an important message that we send to all school children in Kentucky that schools are tobacco-free. That’s really the point of the whole bill.”

Another amendment from Rep. Travis Brenda (R-Cartersville) would let adults use tobacco at public schools when students aren’t present.

It’s absurd such proposals are being made, let alone that they would be necessary to pass the bill. To see the absurdity, all you have to do is consider if it was the use of alcohol, rather than tobacco, being debated.

Would we stand for anyone drinking on the job at a public school? Would we be OK with saying schools should have the “local option” to let teachers bring in alcohol? What about allowing alcohol at public schools only after hours?

The sane answer to all of those questions is a flabbergasted “ absolutely not.”

Alcohol and tobacco are both regulated substances that are legal for adults to consume but not for juveniles. Both alter brain chemistry and can have negative health consequences, including death.

Alcohol and tobacco are both responsible for thousands of premature deaths — in fact, tobacco is responsible for 545 percent more deaths annually than alcohol.

Tobacco has a storied economic history in Kentucky as one of the state’s signature products. So does alcohol — it’s called bourbon. Neither legacy is an excuse for adults to use dangerous substances in close proximity to children who are supposed to be learning.

It’s time for Kentucky legislators to stop playing politics with the health of our kids. Pass HB 11 now.