Tobacco at our public schools

By Brent Troy, M.D., M.P.H., Pediatric Resident Physician

Since the 1980s, we’ve known to protect our children from tobacco’s effects by having a minimum legal age of consumption, but we have failed to protect them from tobacco smoke while they attend public schools or ride a school bus in the state of Kentucky.

About 50 percent of the roughly 650,000 public school students in Kentucky currently attend school in districts that have become smoke free, but the state as a whole has not passed legislation to make our public school facilities smoke free.

While half of the states in this country have enacted laws to keep our children safe from second-hand smoke at school facilities, Kentucky is still working out the kinks of a bill that will pass through the House.

Just a quick search on the CDC website shows what the health care field has known for decades: the countless side effects from second-hand smoke such as asthma attacks requiring admission to the pediatric intensive care unit.  Children who are exposed to smoking are also more likely to smoke themselves, which can lead to breathing problems, increased general health risks and even lung cancer. 

In the emergency department, it is quite common to see children presenting with a severe asthma attack triggered by tobacco smoke.  Seeing the fear in a child’s face, just once, when they can’t get sufficient oxygen, is enough to know something has to be done at a health policy level.  Even those who generally support smaller government and fewer regulations should recognize that protecting vulnerable children is an appropriate role of government.  And while some parents can rest easy knowing their child isn’t exposed to smoke at home, they should have the same level of comfort when their child goes to school or simply rides the school bus.  

As a pediatrician, I have seen far too many cases of second-hand smoke being detrimental to children’s health. I urge you to contact your State Representative and State Senator during this current legislative session, from January to March, to help keep your children out of the hospital, to save money and time for all. 

This pediatrician will be advocating for your children throughout this legislative session and many years to come.