(LOUISVILLE, Ky - December 12, 2019) A bill to raise the legal age for buying all tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, in Kentucky from 18 to 21 was pre-filed today by State Sen. Ralph Alvarado of Winchester. The bill would help reverse the youth e-cigarette, or "vaping," epidemic that has reached more than a quarter of Kentucky's high school students and one in seven middle schoolers, according to the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky.

"Youth tobacco use had been declining for decades, but it has suddenly skyrocketed since the introduction of e-cigarettes and vapes," said Sen. Alvarado, who chairs the Senate Committee on Health and Welfare and is also a practicing physician. "The science is clear that adolescents and teens are particularly vulnerable to the health risks of nicotine and other toxins in tobacco products. This bill is a common-sense, widely supported measure to help keep tobacco out of the hands of kids."

The Foundation was joined by the Kentucky Medical Association, the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, Kentucky Youth Advocates, Kentucky School Boards Association, the Kentucky Cancer Foundation, Greater Louisville, Inc., and the Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce in supporting the bill. They said reducing youth access to tobacco products is the primary goal of such Tobacco 21 legislation. Sen. Alvarado's bill (BR967) will:

  • Define tobacco products to include current and future tobacco products, including e-cigarettes and heat-not-burn products;
  • Prohibit the sale of tobacco products to persons under the age of 21;
  • Require the tobacco retailer or their employee to verify the age of the purchaser prior to the sale;
  • Require tobacco retailers to post signs stating that sales to persons under the age of 21 are prohibited; and
  • Assess penalties against retailers that violate the law.
"Most teens get tobacco from older friends who can buy the products legally, but youth under age 18 typically don't hang out with people who are 21 or older, so the bill helps cut off a major social source of tobacco for kids," said Ben Chandler, president and CEO of the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky. "Another key reason we support Sen. Alvarado's Tobacco 21 bill is that it puts the responsibility on retailers to post signs and check ID, rather than on kids who may be addicted due to the massive marketing of e-cigarettes that has been targeted to youth. Research shows that's a far more effective approach to reduce youth use than putting kids into the judicial system, which often creates even worse health outcomes than tobacco use."
Tobacco 21 is a top priority for the Foundation and the Coalition for a Smoke-Free Tomorrow, which Chandler chairs and which has led recent policy efforts to protect Kentucky kids from tobacco, including raising the state cigarette tax and making Kentucky schools tobacco free.
Data released in November show that 6.2 million kids use tobacco, and e-cigarettes are, by far, the most popular product among youth. Nationwide in 2019, 27.5 of high schoolers and 10.5 percent of middle schoolers vape. Last year, Kentucky youth were already vaping at higher rates than the national averages; 2019 Kentucky data won't be released until next spring.
"We can't wait any longer to act. Focus groups the Foundation conducted in partnership with Kentucky Youth Advocates made clear that teens in the Commonwealth who never would have touched cigarettes are using e-cigarettes, and they mistakenly believe they're safe. We have to raise the age from 18 to 21 in this legislative session," Chandler said.
Nearly 90 percent of adult smokers started before age 18, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The teenage brain is uniquely sensitive to nicotine; until the brain is fully developed, using e-cigarettes impairs youth impulse control, and increases the chances of smoking combustible cigarettes and becoming addicted to other illicit drugs. Other toxins in tobacco products lead to heart disease, cancer and premature death.
"Reducing kids' access to tobacco until they're further along their developmental journey gives them a better shot at concentrating in school, preparing them to become contributing members of a healthy Kentucky workforce, and avoiding a lifelong addiction to nicotine," Alvarado said.
A copy of the bill is available here. Sen. Alvarado will speak about his bill at a Coalition for a Smoke-Free rally in the Capitol rotunda on January 14 at 10 a.m.
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About the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky
Funded by an endowment, the mission of the nonpartisan Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky is to address the unmet health needs of Kentuckians by developing and influencing policy, improving access to care, reducing health risks and disparities, and promoting health equity. Since the Foundation opened its doors in 2001, it has invested nearly $28 million in health policy research, advocacy, and demonstration project grants across the Commonwealth. Follow the Foundation on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, and visit our website at www.healthy-ky.org.

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