Kentucky Teens Take the Initiative in Smoke-Free Messaging

By Patrick Reed | 5/16/17 10:02 AM

Although tobacco use has long been a primary cause of many diseases affecting Kentuckians, and the commonwealth’s rankings in overall and youth smoking rates remain low, positive signs are easy to find.

A growing number of Kentucky teenagers have taken up the anti-tobacco cause and are advocating for smoke-free ordinances and other initiatives to reduce use among their peers and in general. As part of KET’s 2017 Smoking and Health initiative, a production team attended the Kentucky Center for Smoke-Free Policy’s (KCSP) annual conference, where teenagers from Adair County received an award for producing a public service announcement promoting smoke-free policies. Students from Casey County High School were also recognized for their project to ensure a tobacco-free campus.

Spreading the Word for a Smoke-Free Adair Co.
The Adair County Smoke-free Youth Coalition received the 2017 Smoke-free Youth Advocate Award for their PSA, which was presented to the local Chamber of Commerce.

Youth Coalition member Michaela Walker says that the main point of their PSA was to advocate for a smoke-free ordinance for Adair County in central Kentucky which would include all indoor and outdoor public places. Its message was inclusive, and focused on the effects from smoke rather than the behavior of the smoker.

“The commercial we made showed all different ages, different parts of the community, some of us were at our high school, some were at the workplace, and some were children at the Little League Field. It was really just signs saying, ‘It’s not the smoker, it’s the smoke that’s bothering me,’” Walker says.

Walker struggles with asthma, which motivated her to join the coalition. Both Austin Lawhorn and MaKayla Matthews were inspired by their family members’ history of smoking.

“I got involved with this mainly because I lost my grandmother due to lung cancer a couple of years ago, before my senior year,” Matthews says. “So it kind of hits home a little bit.”

According to Walker, some teens she knows who are smokers kept their distance after watching the PSA, but “at least they acknowledged what we were saying.”

Casey Co. Youth Coalition Makes Strides
Austin Harne and Dakota Hoskins, both Casey County High School students, were at the KCSP conference and discussed their efforts as part of the Casey Youth Coalition to enforce an existing smoke-free policy on their high school campus.

“The main problem we have with tobacco use in schools is that students smoke in the bathrooms, and that is a serious problem for other students who don’t smoke,” Harne says. He adds that support from the community for their efforts was difficult to get at first, and Hoskins agrees.

“We’ve had so many tobacco farmers, and it’s how they made their living, and now, when we try to change that, it’s kind of scary for some people,” Hoskins says. “So that resistance is definitely there.”

The Casey Youth Coalition developed a project called “Photo Voice,” using pictures with captions strategically placed in different areas of the school, to publicize the problem of bathroom smoking and spread an overall anti-tobacco message. They also recently received funding to place anti-combustion detectors in their school’s bathrooms.

The message seems to be working, as Harne says that according to a recent KIP (Kentucky Incentives for Prevention) survey, opinions about smoking among Casey County sixth-graders have dropped drastically.

“We’re having other groups of kids want to know, ‘What’s the coalition all about? How can we help?” adds Hoskins. “We have a GEAR UP program in our school, and recently they asked for information on how to make a launching model. Other people want to be a part of the process.”

foundation_logo2013This KET content is part of the Smoking and Health initiative, funded in part by the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky.