State health officials encourage schools to adopt tobacco-free policy

Forty-four percent of high school students in Kentucky, last year, say they’ve tried smoking cigarettes. Many schools already enforce tobacco-free policies, but in our area, Marshall County and Murray Independent Schools are among the few that have that policy.

State health officials were in Paducah on Thursday encouraging more districts to get on board, taking steps to keep your child from ever picking up a cigarette.

"Tobacco users are not performing as well academically as their nonsmoking peers," says Elizabeth Anderson-Hoagland with the Kentucky Department of Public Health.

Hoagland says she’s passionate about steering students away from tobacco use, but she can’t do it alone. She says schools that strictly enforce tobacco-free policies can reduce youth smoking by up to 30 percent.

"If you take a student from a school where there is low tobacco use, and that person has no intention of ever using tobacco, and you move them to a different school district where there’s high amounts of tobacco use, that student is more likely to start smoking than if they had remained at their previous school," says Hoagland.

A tobacco-free policy means no one, including visitors and staff, is using tobacco anywhere on school property or at student-related events.

Dr. Richard Hurt, emeritus director of the Nicotine Dependence Center at the Mayo Clinic, says it’s up to teachers and staff to set a good example for students.

"The last thing to develop is the front part of the brain, which is where judgment is located," says Hurt. "So when a 13 or 14 year old experiments with smoking, they’re missing that element of their brain function."

"Youth who see teens or adults smoking in public places see smoking as acceptable," says Hoagland. "It seems like an acceptable normal thing to do."

Hoagland says if schools can create an environment that can help denormalize tobacco use, your child will be less likely to pick up the addicting habit.

If a school is going to go tobacco-free, the Kentucky Department of Public Health says the policy needs to include e-cigarettes and vaporizers because it says they’re a gateway to conventional cigarettes.