In the coming weeks, children across the state are headed back to school. Store fliers are broadcasting sales on pencils and notebooks and computers. Teachers are decorating their classrooms, and bus drivers are learning their routes. Moms and dads are working hard to ensure children start the school year with everything they need.
One thing children may not be getting this year, however, is a school environment that is free of tobacco.
Many believe that schools are already tobacco-free, but this is only partially true. While smoking is prohibited inside school buildings, weak policies at many of our schools mean staff and students continue to light up on school grounds.
About 10 percent of Kentucky high school students reported smoking on school property, according to the 2009 Kentucky Youth Risk Behavior Survey.
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Many more Kentucky high school students — roughly 60 percent — report that they have tried smoking. Whether or not these students are smoking on school property, research tells us that kids are more likely to smoke when they observe teachers, coaches and other role models using tobacco. Our kids are watching, and it is up to us to set a positive example for them.
Now is the perfect time for school districts to adopt 100-percent tobacco-free school policies, which prohibit the use of all tobacco products by students, staff, parents or guests while on school property or at school-sponsored events, such as field trips and sporting events.
Smokers and non-smokers are in agreement about this issue: We don't want our kids to smoke, and we want to set a good example for them. The 2010 Kentucky Health Issues Poll shows that 86 percent of Kentuckians favor 100-percent tobacco-free school policies.
While support for these policies was strongest among those who have never smoked, a solid majority of smokers (75 percent) also supported 100 percent tobacco-free school policies. Clearly, tobacco-free policies are an easy win for school districts.
Tobacco use is legal for anyone over 18 years of age, so the goal of tobacco-free schools is not to prohibit adults from smoking or using other tobacco products. While adults are at liberty to leave school property if they choose to use tobacco, children are required to be at school and don't have the option of avoiding a cloud of secondhand smoke near the school entrance when they need to get to class.
Asking adults to refrain from tobacco use while on school property or at school-sponsored events is a reasonable concession to the health of our children.
Recently, Terry Holliday, commissioner of the Kentucky Department of Education, and William Hacker, then-commissioner of the Kentucky Department for Public Health, sent a letter to all school superintendents in the commonwealth, urging them to adopt a tobacco-free policy. I commend Holliday and Hacker for taking a stand to protect the health of our kids. As parents and community members, we can all take a stand and share our opinions about tobacco-free policies. Isn't the health of our children worth it?