FRANKFORT, Ky. (WDRB) -- Kentucky lawmakers have outlawed vaping, cigarettes and other tobacco use on the state’s K-12 campuses, a move anti-smoking advocates say will shield hundreds of thousands of students from secondhand smoke.
The Senate passed House Bill 11 by a 28 to 10 vote on Thursday, the last day of this year’s legislative session. The measure already has cleared the House.
It now heads to Gov. Matt Bevin’s desk. Sen. Ralph Alvarado, the Republican governor’s running mate in his reelection bid, told reporters this month that Bevin has promised to sign it.
Speaking on the Senate floor, Alvarado said 8,900 Kentuckians die each year from tobacco-related illnesses at a total health care cost of $1.92 billion. Only 43 percent of the state’s school districts are tobacco free, he said.
Alvarado, a physician, said the bill is a “beginning attempt” to lower youth smoking rates in Kentucky.
“It’s time for Kentucky to step up to the plate and protect its children,” he said. “Let’s get our children healthier. Let’s save taxpayer money. Let’s save Kentucky lives.”
Others spoke against the measure. Sen. John Schickel, a Republican from Union in northern Kentucky, said the bill is “the very definition of the government overreach and what some people call the nanny state.’
He argued that these decisions should be left to local school boards. “They exactly are the ones who are supposed to be making them.”
The ban would apply to students, teachers, coaches and other school personnel and visitors while on school property, in school vehicles or during school-sanctioned trips with students. Legislators carved out an exception for adults on school trips that don’t include students.
And the bill lets local school boards opt out of the tobacco prohibitions within three years after the law takes effect in summer 2020. The Coalition for a Smoke-Free Tomorrow believes most school districts would keep the policies required for the first three years, spokeswoman Bonnie Hackbarth said.
A group of organizations that backed the bill celebrated the Senate's action, calling it a victory for the state's children.
"Kentucky kids won big today, especially those living in many of our rural communities where the majority of schools without tobacco-free policies are located," according to the statement from the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky, the Kentucky School Boards Association, the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce and others.
"We put our eggs in this particular basket in 2019 because a statewide tobacco-free schools law is a proven method to keep kids and teens from starting the smoking or e-cigarette habit... a habit that can quickly become an addiction when their young brains are still developing. The bill was critically important this year because of the explosive growth in teen vaping and e-cigarette use."