The Smokebusters of Middlesboro Elementary School fell short of bringing home Destination Imagination's top prize, but they won something even bigger: A healthier, brighter future for their friends, families and hometown.
The team — made up of seven fourth-graders — researched, drafted and successfully advocated for a smoke-free ordinance that the Middlesboro City Council enacted last week.
The youngsters discovered that a third of their fellow Bell Countians smoke, exposing the majority of non-smokers to a stew of toxins that cause many diseases and shorten lives.
Based on studies from other places, Middlesboro will start reaping benefits as soon as the new law takes effect, in the form of fewer heart and asthma attacks. The long-term benefits will be even greater.
Bravo for Middlesboro, the students and their teachers.
Along with 1,468 teams from across the world, the Smokebusters recently traveled to the University of Tennessee for Destination Imagination's Global Finals.
The program, with support from such mainstays as IBM and the Mayo Clinic, seeks to develop a new generation of innovators who will use science and service to solve 21st-century problems.
The attributes the program tries to cultivate in youngsters sound like a checklist for other Kentuckians working to make a difference: "Patience, flexibility, persistence, ethics, respect for others and their ideas, and the collaborative problem solving process."
Smoking inflicts $3.8 billion a year in economic damage on Kentucky, according to the state Chamber of Commerce — along with untold human suffering.
Middlesboro is the 41st local government in Kentucky to enact protections against secondhand smoke and the 25th to enact a comprehensive smoke-free law, meaning it covers all workplaces and enclosed public places with few exemptions.
While the local ordinances signify huge progress in a state where tobacco has long ruled, only a third of Kentucky residents are covered by smoke-free laws.
The fourth-graders, who collected more than 400 signatures on a petition, persuaded their local council to take a vital action that the Kentucky Senate fumbled this year.
Is there any way we could get them to Frankfort?