PARIS — Cyndi Steele stood clapping and hollering, encouraging the students who rallied Wednesday on the courthouse lawn proclaiming their desire for Bourbon County to go smoke free.
For two years Steele, health coordinator for the Bourbon County Health Department, and a volunteer task force have been promoting a smoke-free ordinance in Bourbon County, at one time the largest tobacco-producing county in the state.
The group has made some progress, including eliminating smoking inside the courthouse and in buildings owned by the city of Paris, Steele said.
But only a handful of people turned out Thursday for the Kick Butts event where three dozen local students urged county officials to create a smoke-free workplace ordinance.
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It was one of 45 events across the state and hundreds across the country on Kick Butts Day, a day of activism that empowers youth to stand out, speak up and seize control against tobacco, according to Kickbuttsday.org.
Wearing gray T-shirts that said "Kick Ash" on the back, the students placed posters of 13 anatomical hearts on the courthouse lawn. According to statistics from Kentucky Center for Smoke-free Policy and Tobacco, 13 fewer people in Bourbon County would die each year from smoking-related illness if a smoke-free workplace ordinance was in place, Steele said.
During a pre-rally pep talk Steele asked the students to raise their hand if they are routinely exposed to second-hand smoke. Nearly all did.
Josh Sargent, 15, a ninth-grader at Paris Independent High School, said plenty of his friends and family smoke, including his parents and an older sister. But, he said, he thinks banning smoking in the workplace and the Kick Butts event is a step in the right direction. "It can get people's attention," he said.
Briana Neal, 17, a senior at Bourbon County High School, agreed. Both her parents started smoking at age 10, she said. And although she's talked to them about quitting, and they have tried several times, they continue to smoke.
Briana, who has never picked up the habit, works at Wendy's which is smoke-free. She thinks it helps her co-workers.
"At least they can only smoke when they are on break," she said.
Steele doesn't understand the reluctance to embrace a smoke-free workplace ordinance, she said. About 63 percent of businesses in Paris favor a workplace ban, she said. And more and more rural counties are joining big counties like Jefferson and Fayette in snuffing out workplace smoking.
According to the Kentucky Policy Research Program, 34 percent of the state's population is covered under workplace smoking bans, including Madison, Clark and Franklin counties in Central Kentucky.
Bourbon County Judge-Executive Donnie Foley strolled in front of posters shortly after the short ceremony. A non-smoker, he said he supported the students efforts and was pleased that the courthouse had recently gone smoke-free. But, he said, old ways are hard to change. In the early 1900s, Paris was home to two cigar manufacturers and six tobacco redrying factories and several tobacco warehouses.
As late as 1990, Bourbon ranked first in burley tobacco production for the state. "There are still an awful lot of people around here who grow tobacco," he said.
Still, he said, of the student's efforts "it doesn't hurt and it might help a little bit."
To see a full list of cities and counties with work place smoking bans as collected by the Kentucky Policy Research Program Center go to Bit.ly/HdOQ7.