FRANKFORT, Ky., January 6, 2021 - Bills filed in the state legislature today would give Kentucky cities and counties new tools to improve community health and reduce health care costs related to the high rates of tobacco use in many areas of the Commonwealth, especially among youth. Filed by Sen. Julie Raque Adams in the Senate and Rep. Kim Moser in the House, the bills would restore local control over the marketing and sale of tobacco products in Kentucky.
The bills are supported by the Coalition for a Smoke-Free Tomorrow, comprising more than 220 leading businesses, health care providers, faith-based and health advocacy organizations in Kentucky. The measures would not create any new local laws governing tobacco. Rather, they would give cities and counties the option - if they so choose and have community support - to govern the marketing, sale, use and distribution of tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, in their communities.
"This is not a mandate - our bills would in no way require communities to adopt measures to reduce tobacco use," said Sen. Adams. She spoke at a news conference announcing the bills this morning. "What they would do instead is untie the hands of local elected officials to make measurable progress to cut youth vaping, adult smoking and other tobacco use that leads to so much disease and preventable death in our communities."
"The bills would simply give back to communities the tools they had before 1996, when Big Tobacco came in and lobbied for statutory language that prohibited local control," said Rep. Moser, who also spoke at the news conference. "Tobacco companies were pushing legislatures in dozens of states for this preemptive language in an effort to overturn existing local laws and prevent future community measures to reduce tobacco use. It's time to restore local tobacco control so communities can tailor measures to address their needs."
The 1996 state law prohibits most local ordinances that govern the marketing and sale of tobacco products. But local tobacco-control policies can improve health by serving as a "catalyst for transitioning social norms" around tobacco use, according to a 2014 U.S. Surgeon General's report. Twenty-four years after the preemption law passed, Kentucky continues to have nearly the highest adult smoking rate in the nation at 24 percent, and the rate ranges as high as 49 percent in some areas. In 16 Kentucky counties, more than 30 percent of women smoke while pregnant. Meanwhile, new tobacco products including e-cigarettes have come on the market and enticed millions of youth to become addicted to nicotine; one in four Kentucky high school students and nearly one in six middle schoolers regularly use e-cigarettes.
"The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the impact of Kentucky's high levels of chronic disease on worker and community health," said Dr. Pat Withrow, a retired Paducah cardiologist and active advocate for prevention of youth tobacco use. "More than a third of cancers in Kentucky are caused by smoking. Just think if we could cut that by even 10 percent, Kentucky would no longer be the cancer capital of the nation." Dr. Withrow serves as director of community outreach for Baptist Health Paducah.
"Reducing tobacco use would help tremendously, especially in Eastern Kentucky, where we have a major focus on the importance of a healthy workforce in convincing companies to locate or expand their operations in our communities," said Betsy Clemons, executive director of the Hazard Perry Chamber of Commerce.
Smoking causes more than 8,900 deaths every year in Kentucky, and racks up $1.92 billion in health care costs, including $590 million in Medicaid costs. Kentucky households incur nearly $1,100 in extra taxes each year to cover these costs. Meanwhile, the cigarette and smokeless tobacco companies alone spend $9 billion a year marketing their products in the United States every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention - that's about $25 million per day. In 2018, e-cigarette marketing expenditures totaled $100 million. Many e-cigarette sold in stores have been stocked next to candy, gum, soda or ice cream, according to a June 2020 report in Preventive Medicine Reports.
"It has been my privilege to speak to my state senator and representative along with my U.S. Representative about tougher [tobacco control] laws," said Abigail Birman, a junior at McCracken County High School in Paducah, at the news conference. "What is crazy, is that I have not done any local advocacy work in my area because there is a state law that prohibits my local community from doing more to protect me and my friends from the tobacco advertising in the windows of stores I see every day. This needs to change."
Hannah Abdon, a student at Randall Cooper High School in Union, also raised concerns about how difficult it is for youth and teens to avoid tobacco product marketing.
"In some parts of town, there are four tobacco stores within just a block or two of each other," Abdon said. "But Boone County can't do anything about it right now."
Speakers at the news conference included (first row, left to right) Sen. Julie Raque Adams, Louisville; Rep. Kim Moser, Taylor Mill; Dr. Pat Withrow, Baptist Health Paducah; (second row) Betsy Clemons, Hazard Perry Chamber; Abigail Birman, McCracken County High School in Paducah; and Hannah Abdon, Randall Cooper High School in Union.
A recording of the news conference is available here.
About the Coalition for a Smoke-Free Tomorrow
The Coalition for a Smoke-Free Tomorrow is committed to its mission of improving Kentucky's health by protecting Kentuckians from secondhand smoke and other tobacco emissions, and by reducing the high rate of smoking and tobacco use in the Commonwealth. For more information, please visit www.smokefreetomorrow.org.
The Coalition is led by representatives of the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, American Heart Association, American Lung Association, Baptist Health, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky, Humana, Kentucky Cancer Foundation, Kentucky Center for Smoke-Free Policy, Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, Kentucky Council of Churches, Kentucky Equal Justice Center, Kentucky Health Collaborative, Kentucky Health Departments Association, Kentucky Hospital Association, Kentucky Medical Association, Kentucky Nurses Association, Kentucky School Boards Association, Kentucky Voices for Health, and Kentucky Youth Advocates. Other partners and members of the Coalition represent a broad array of more than 220 groups, including Kentucky business leaders, health advocates, health care providers and payers, educators, and faith community leaders.
Bonnie J. Hackbarth