Story by Shari Rowe
As the press stake out spots in the small studio, people bustle about setting up cameras and opening their notebooks. Four students prepare and practice their speeches as everyone awaits Senator Todd Young’s arrival.
The topic of the hour is tobacco products like E-cigs and Juuls, and of the act going to Congress that intends to raise the legal age for buying tobacco products to 21, called Tobacco for 21. Those who support the act are very hopeful that it will pass.
“Well, I’m kind of like Senator Young. I’d like to think positively about it, but I’m not in the guarantee business. So I really hope it does, but could I a hundred percent guarantee it, I’m not in that position,” said Teresa Hebert, who helped set up the conference.
The students advocating for the act that spoke were FC students Tyler Barrett, Zachary Vitale, and Myla Tissandier, and New Albany student Ashia Carr. These teens are part of the group Teens For Tobacco 21, or T4TT.
“We got started in July of 2018 when we were doing a day of service with Miles for Merry Miracles. After visiting about five places where we volunteered we stopped for lunch and Ms. Hebert asked us, ‘What is one issue among your peers you’re concerned with most?’” said Barrett. “The first thing that popped into my mind was E-cigarettes. Then, one of the middle schoolers in our group said E-cigarettes. This is very shocking for us to hear, that E-cigarettes were even an issue in middle schools, so Ms. Hebert then asked us what are we going to do about it.”
Smoking is known as a dangerous activity, causing illnesses like lung disease and cancer; moreover, cigarettes are not the only product the act targets.
“Actually, another thing that has been a craze over our youth is vaping,” said Tissandier. “I recently read a news article about how eight teens were hospitalized because of severe lung damage from vaping. According to the CDC, the number of high schoolers who use E-cigarettes skyrocketed between 2011 and 2018 from 220,000 users to more than 3 million.”
According to the American Heart Association, while vaping doesn’t have everything that is in cigarettes, it should not be considered as an alternative.
“E-cig vapor includes potentially harmful substances such as nicotine, diacetyl (a chemical linked to a serious lung disease), cancer-causing chemicals, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and heavy metals such as nickel, tin, and lead. And because vapor is exhaled, those nearby are also exposed to these contaminants,” they said on their website.
However, people under 18 have access to tobacco products with the age limit at 18. It is very unlikely that everyone under age would stop taking tobacco products, but it can reduce the amount.
“So it’s not uncommon for a fifteen-year-old to know an eighteen-year-old. It’s less common for a fifteen year old to have a close relationship to a 21-year old. So this is not a panacea, this is not a solution,” said Young, “but as so many of our speakers, student speakers, indicated today, the intention here is to significantly reduce the illegal transfer of tobacco products from some young people to other young people, and therefore significantly reduce the adverse health impacts associated with E-cigarettes and vaping and cigarettes.”
The act, overall, is meant to lower the amount of people who vape and smoke. It will also bring attention to the large problem at hand.
“When you have a staggering numbers of the increase in users that high, and in a product that’s that dangerous,” said State Senator Ron Grooms. “eventually your message will sink in. Eventually it will be, the message will be sold.”
The use of tobacco can cause long-term damaging side effects from disease to even death.
Vitale said, “The health of my friends and our future generation is far too valuable to let this go up in smoke.”
By Shari Rowe
In the past year, teachers in multiple states have had walkouts over funding and money. Kentucky is one such state that has had walkouts in the past year, protesting more specifically over their pensions being planned to be taken away.
“They so definitely affected having school in session. I’d rather support my teachers and graduate a few days late than not support them and complain about my senior year ending later. I do want to get out of here but at same time I’d rather be helpful and I want to be there for them,” said J Graham Brown School senior Max Palmer.
In addition, there are laws against walkouts in Indiana as well as in other states.
“It is illegal for teachers to strike in Indiana; however, there’s been other states where it’s illegal for teachers to strike,” said English teacher Kristi Charbonneau, “and it hasn’t stopped teachers because some schools are so underfunded that they can’t afford chairs that aren’t broken.”
Some of these obstacles, like the Kentucky pensions, are tackled by teachers in the form of walkouts, as well as other ways of protesting.
“A sick-out is where so many people call in sick that districts have to cancel school. I have heard we have to do this in the state of Kentucky because striking or walking out is not an option,” said Stuart Pepper Middle School counselor Aimee Fackler, who has participated in the walkouts at her school.
In Kentucky, which has been having walkouts since spring of 2018, the issues also lead back to funding for schools, students, and teachers. Many teachers in the Meade County school district, which includes Stuart Pepper Middle School, in Kentucky have actively spoken out about these issues.
“Kentucky teachers have several political goals, as I see it. One, fund public education at a reasonable level that restores money for textbooks, professional development, and stops requiring districts to pay for unfunded state educational mandates,” said coordinator for student services for Meade County Schools in Kentucky Amy Berry. “Two, demonstrate the ‘power’ that the teaching force has to lobby Frankfort in preparation for the fight that will ultimately take place over our pension system since this wasn’t a budget year, this could not be addressed during this session. And three, rebuild respect for the important work that our staff does for Kentucky’s children every day.”
In order for their requests to be fulfilled, many Kentucky teachers travel to Frankfort, the state’s capitol, to protest on the capitol in efforts for Congress and Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin to hear their demands.
“The reason teachers are walking out of school is to go to Frankfort to make sure bills do not get passed that would hurt our public education system,” said Fackler. “The overall goal is that we keep our funding for our schools and we fund our pension system. I believe the ultimate goal is to find better funding for our schools.”
Instead of walkouts, ISTA president Teresa Meredith wants to protest in a different way in Indiana than the walkouts in other states.
“Well, we’re trying actually to get more and more of our locals to do something called a walk-in where you pick a day, you prepare, you get all of the teachers ready, you try and get administration to do this with you,” said Meredith, “and right before the contract day starts, you all gather in front of the building and you all walk in together, and you invite the community to come and watch this and you ask the community members to come and show their support for their teachers and then you let local news media know that you’re doing this.”
Walkouts and other such protests happen to draw attention to the problems teachers constantly face in their chosen profession.
“The thing that will help Kentucky schools and employees the most, in this fight, is for all Kentuckians to vote,” said Kentucky Stuart Pepper Middle School eighth grade math teacher Casey Mattingly. “We need pro-education legislators in office. We also need all people who are not registered to vote, to register. The more voters for our cause, the better.”
Some students are even getting involved, some marching with their teachers.
“I do know a bunch of students, like when the teachers go and protest, a bunch of students are going to Frankfort to protest with them. Last year, when all of this kind of ramped up, there were walkouts before school started in the morning. A lot of students participated in that,” said Palmer. “That’s all that I can really think of, though. I know some kids are taking to Twitter because of that JCPS closings (Twitter) account. A lot of them are talking to the Matt Bevins (Twitter) account. I’m not sure if he is seeing them but someone is at least.”
Teachers want legislators to know that they are here for an important reason, and that is to help students.
“Understand that everything is not black and white, that teachers are here because we’re passionate about helping kids,” said Charbonneau. “We’re not here to jump through hoops or to give tests or to just make the state happy. We’re here for kids.”