Student-driven project at Hazard High that advocated for tobacco-free policies is named a Healthy Kentucky Policy Champion

Several HHS TAP members advocated for the tobacco-free schools bill, which passed, at the state Capitol this spring.

The Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky has awarded a student-driven project to educate youth and community members about the dangers of tobacco use as the latest recipient of a Healthy Kentucky Policy Champion Award.

The project was part of the Hazard High School Tobacco-free Ambassador Partnership (HHS TAP) program, which is a partnership between the school and the University of Kentucky. It is supported by the CVS Health Foundation.

“The award recognizes the students’ progress in advocating for smoke-free and tobacco-free policies and talking with peers about reducing their tobacco use,” a news release form the foundation said.

“My involvement with TAP has made me realize that the only thing you need to do to make a difference is have courage. I’m so thankful for the message TAP shares — that students have a voice, and we need to share the dangers of the addiction that takes so many youths each year,” said senior Zoe Pennington, one of 24 students participating in the program.

The others are Brittany Vires, Makenzie Baker, Cage Watts, Simone Beverly, Trajon Campbell, Catherine Cornwell, Kyleah Maggard, Shelbi Ritchie, Madison Eddington, Bella Dawhare, Jared Hoskins, Dakota Sharpey, Andrew Nyguen, Kennedi Artrip, Ava Dixon, Laura Hanna, Abby Stoffel, Ben Handshoe, Jarrett Napier, Sarah Jo Campbell, Kendra Miller, Alexa Muha, and Katie Braman.

During the 2018-19 school year, the students conducted surveys, participated in policy advocacy training and organized and hosted a variety of activities and events to raise awareness of what can be done to decrease tobacco use in their community. In addition, they wrote letters to the legislature and visited Frankfort to support the tobacco-free schools bill that passed in 2019.

One of their projects included a video of the school’s retired band director, an iconic figure and  former smoker, about her success in kicking a 30-year smoking habit. The students also identified opportunities to strengthen existing smoke-free and tobacco-free policies in their community.

Melinda Ickes, an associate professor in the UK College of Education, said many of the students were initially uncomfortable talking about tobacco-related issues in their community, “given the negative response typically elicited,” but have since “built a foundation to continue work in this area” and are now “eager to talk about tobacco and the benefits of evidence-based tobacco policies.”

“This group of students is having an impact on youth and adults in their community,” said foundation Community Advisory Council members Fran Feltner and Melissa Slone.

The HHS TAP program and other winners are now eligible for the Healthy Kentucky Policy Champion of the Year award, which comes with a $5,000 grant from the foundation to a Kentucky-based nonprofit of the winner’s choice. The winner will be announced at the foundation’s annual health policy forum Sept. 23 in Lexington.

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