MADISONVILLE, Ky. -- The Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky hosted a community health forum and workshop Wednesday to inform board members and health officials of its ongoing initiatives.
Foundation CEO Ben Chandler opened the event by acknowledging that his organization will be focusing more on lobbying for statewide smoke-free laws.
The foundation began with a $55 million endowment, which Chandler said was "stout" but would be even more impactful in advocating for better laws to combat the state's biggest health issues and educating the public about them.
One of its popular initiatives at the moment is tobacco-use reduction. Chandler said the foundation's lobbying was a big reason the cigarette tax was raised 50 cents.
"We wanted a dollar or more because it would have the impact we want," he said.
The foundation's goal is to denormalize smoking in Kentucky and in turn eliminate diseases that stem from second-hand smoke.
According to statistics from the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, Kentucky's annual health care expenditures are $1.9 billion and the cost to Medicaid to treat smoking-related illnesses is $589 million.
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Ellen J. Hahn, alumni professor in the College of Nursing and Public Health at the University of Kentucky, said smoke-free campaigns are not an attack on people who smoke.
"It's not the smoker we're targeting with a smoke-free campaign; it's the smoke," Hahn said. "Secondhand smoke is deadly. It causes heart disease and lung cancer. We (Kentucky) lead the U.S. in cancer, and that's something I want to change. We can't stand for that."
Bonnie Hackbarth, vice president of external affairs for the foundation, said by lobbying for smoke-free policies at the legislature level, it will "denormalize-normalize" smoking in public places.
"This isn't about telling people if they can or can't smoke," she said. "It's simply saying when you're in a place where the rest of the population can be, you need to go outside."
At the top of the foundation's list is a bill that would require all school districts to be smoke-free, prohibiting anyone anywhere on the campus from smoking, including people in cars and at sporting games. That would include e-cigarettes.
The foundation is working with the Kentucky School Board Association to send out informational packets about the bill to encourage local communities to pass it.
The bill would have to be passed by July 1, 2020, in order to go into law in the 2020 school year, Hackbarth said.
Taking it a step further, the foundation is preparing a statewide smoke-free workplaces bill as well as the bill Tobacco 21 that was recently introduced by Sen. Mitch McConnell. The bill would prohibit the sell of tobacco products to anyone younger than 21. It includes e-cigarettes, which have become popular with students as young as elementary-age, and IQOS, a new electronic tobacco product that has been approved by the Federal Drug Administration be sold in the U.S. this summer.
"Most of the students who are using tobacco products are getting them from social sources," Hackbarth said. "A lot of 18-year-olds are in schools, and a lot of 15-, 16-, 17-year-olds hang around 18-year-olds. What the research shows is those younger kids don't hang around 21-year-olds, so it actually does reduce consumption."
The foundation recently launched an anti-vaping video campaign called "I Just Didn't Know." Students of all ages from across the state are featured in the videos that educate teens and their parents about the dangers of e-cigarettes and Juuls.
"We heard over and over from kids, teens and parents that they just didn't know it was bad," Hackbarth said.
The discussion opened up for the crowd to discuss the foundation's initiatives and to offer ideas.
Madisonville extension agent Katherine Jury asked if any thought had been put into Life Skills and nutrition education.
"We're spending so much money on the front end trying to fix the health issues when we could do education on the back end," she said. "Where are our priorities? We spend so much on care."
Chandler said there's not enough regulation on what's advertised on TV, from tobacco to prescription drugs.
Kecia Fulcher, CEO of Community Medical Clinic in Hopkinsville, agreed: "We advertise prescription drugs in this country like Big Macs."
Fulcher went on to share positive change that came from the Community Health Assessment, which is organized by the Christian County Health Department every four years. Fulcher served on the committee that worked to get the smoking ban passed in Hopkinsville in 2012 and suggested the conversion of the Rail Trail.
"Health initiatives like that are very little cost to families and we can already see the benefits of that," she said.
Todd County Mayor Arthur Green chimed in that the foundation was on the right track to include children in their Healthy Kentucky campaigns. Green, who is also chairman of the Todd County Health Department Board, said it was kids that helped local officials ban smoking in the Todd County Courthouse.
In closing, Hackbarth handed out jump drives loaded with the videos from the "I Just Didn't Know" campaign.
"It's ironic that I'm handing out jump drives and they look like the Juuls," she said, as the crowd laughed. She encouraged them to share the videos with schools, churches and anywhere possible. Hackbarth said the videos are also being broadcast on 10 TV stations, include WPSD in Paducah and WBKO in Bowling Green.
Reach Zirconia Alleyne at 270-887-3243 or firstname.lastname@example.org.