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Researchers, advocates discuss state health equity at Kentucky Tobacco Control Conference

The 1998 tobacco master settlement agreement will bring more than $118 million this year for agricultural diversification and health care efforts in Kentucky.
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The 1998 tobacco master settlement agreement will bring more than $118 million this year for agricultural diversification and health care efforts in Kentucky.

The University of Kentucky’s Center for Smoke-Free Policy and the Kentucky Tobacco Prevention and Cessation Program hosted a conference this week to discuss disparities in state tobacco control.

Experts discussed how to improve health equity among the state’s smoke-free laws, which cover indoor workplaces and public spaces. A UK College of Nursing study says only 38 percent of Kentuckians are fully protected by smoke free laws.

Amanda Fallin-Bennett is an associate professor at the College. She says that despite a dramatic drop in smoking in recent decades, smoking rates are still high among marginalized groups.

“It’s very, very high among people with serious mental illness, people with substance use disorders, people experiencing homelessness,” Fallin-Bennett said. “However, we know that most people who smoke cigarettes would like to quit. So it's really a social justice issue and a health equity issue.”

Other discussions involved how to engage youth and families with anti-smoking programs.

Gabrielle Cochran is the program coordinator for the University of Kentucky’s I Can End The Trend campaign, which focuses on discussions with grade school students. She says e-cigarettes and vapes marketed towards young adults have been responsible for a resurgence in smoking rates.

“We see that youth rates that were dropping under 10 percent – two to three percent, with cigarette use – that they're now, in Kentucky, back up over 20 percent of use with e-cigarettes among high schoolers,” Cochran said.

As of this month, 44 Kentucky communities have passed comprehensive smoke free ordinances.

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Shepherd joined WEKU in June 2023 as a staff reporter. He most recently worked for West Virginia Public Broadcasting as General Assignment Reporter. In that role, he collected interviews and captured photos in the northern region of West Virginia. Shepherd holds a master’s degree in Digital Marketing Communication and a bachelor’s in music from West Virginia University.
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