(Frankfort, Ky., March 1, 2019) The Kentucky general assembly should raise the legal age for all tobacco product sales from 18 to 21 to help combat the epidemic in youth vaping, says a combination of health, education, business, youth advocacy and faith-based groups from across the state.
"The epidemic in youth vaping has magnified Kentucky's already high rate of adolescent and teen tobacco use in just the last year, to the point where one in four Kentucky kids now uses some kind of tobacco product," said Ben Chandler, president and CEO of the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky. "Prohibiting convenience stores, pharmacies, vape shops and other retailers in Kentucky from selling to buyers under the age of 21 will make it harder for our youth to get their hands on e-cigarettes and other addictive nicotine products."
Senate Bill 249, a "tobacco 21" bill, could be resurrected in the legislature, the groups said.
Under current law, retail store owners can be fined $100 to $500 for selling tobacco products to buyers under the age of 18. Individuals, such as retail clerks who sell to underage buyers can be fined from $500 to $1,000. Those who distribute free samples of tobacco products to underage persons can be fined $1,000 to $2,500.
On the other hand, youth who purchase, use or possess tobacco products can be charged with a status offense and ordered to appear in court. If the age were raised to 21, those ages 18 through 20 could have a permanent record citation and be fined.
The groups urged lawmakers to remove the penalties on youth, except for a provision which allows officials to confiscate tobacco products from underage persons.
"The health win for young people around this bill is undeniably profound," said Terry Brooks, executive Director of Kentucky Youth Advocates. "And that commitment to youth can be deepened even more when legislative leaders remove the wrong-headed criminalization of underage possession and use of tobacco products. Kentucky has embarked on a positive path in reforming the youth justice system, including around the inappropriate use of status offenses, and we can build on that momentum by expanding SB 249's positive impact to both health and juvenile justice. We need to seize this rare moment for a double win!"
The groups also urged legislators to ensure that the definition of tobacco products in SB 249 covers all products, including cigarettes, smokeless tobacco, e-cigarette and heat-not-burn products.
Organizations calling on the Kentucky legislature to pass a "tobacco-21" law include:
- Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky
- Kentucky Youth Advocates
- Baptist Health
- Kentucky Health Collaborative
- Kentucky Council of Churches
- Kentucky Chamber of Commerce
- Kentucky Cancer Foundation
- Kentucky School Boards Association
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Bonnie J. Hackbarth