FRANKFORT, Ky, February 3, 2021 - Amid signs that e-cigarette use, or "vaping," has increased during the pandemic among some Kentucky teens, health advocates from across the Commonwealth urged legislators this morning to give local communities more tools to combat youth tobacco use.
At a virtual rally hosted by the Coalition for a Smoke-Free Tomorrow, the advocates said adding those tools means restoring local tobacco control over the marketing and sale of tobacco products, and reinstating funding that was cut this year for tobacco addiction prevention and cessation programs.
Tobacco use is particularly relevant during the pandemic because smoking, whether it is cigarettes or e-cigarettes, puts people at greater risk for serious Covid-19 complications, said Rep. Kim Moser of Taylor Mill. And a study published in January in the World Journal of Pediatrics shows youth are no exception.
"Adolescents and teens may believe that their young age protects them from contracting COVID-19, but new data show that's not true for youth who vape," Rep. Moser said.
Rep. Moser and Sen. Julie Raque Adams, of Louisville, have filed bills in their respective chambers (HB 147 and SB81, respectively) that would give cities and counties the option of adopting ordinances that would govern the marketing and sale of tobacco products in their communities. The bills would repeal a 1996 law adopted at the behest of big tobacco companies that stripped local communities of this authority.
A Tool, Not a Mandate
"Our bills do not mandate that local communities pass new tobacco control laws," Sen. Adams said. "They simply restore to communities the tools they always had before 1996 to improve local health by reducing tobacco use. We can't let up our efforts to prevent another generation from becoming hooked on tobacco products. After 24 years and in the midst of a pandemic that puts our families and neighbors at great risk, its time to restore local tobacco control to improve community health."
Support for Local Tobacco Control from Across the Commonwealth
Sen. Wil Schroder of Wilder offered his support for the bill in a video shown at the rally. He said, "My philosophy has always been that first we should look at the local level and see if these issues are better handled by local representatives of the people. You know, in the same sense that we give the authority on whether or not to be a wet or dry county to our local elected officials, I think it only makes sense that we would also empower them with the ability to decide what is appropriate advertising when it comes to tobacco and vaping products."
J.D. Chaney, executive director and CEO of the Kentucky League of Cities, said, "One of the most critical functions of city governments in Kentucky is the protection of public health, and giving the communities the ability to make local decisions regarding the regulation of tobacco helps advance that important mission."
Hazard Perry County Chamber of Commerce president Betsy Clemons added, "I believe local tobacco control is so important, especially in Eastern Kentucky where we have a major focus on the importance of a healthy workforce as well as improving the health and lives of our youth and citizens in rural Kentucky."
Youth Advocates Also Step Up
Hannah Abdon, a junior in high school from Northern Kentucky, spoke live during today's rally, saying, "It is upsetting to me that in my community, kids will be more likely to smoke and vape because of the exposure they get to these products on a daily basis."
Paducah high school student, Abigail Birman, one of several youth who appeared in the rally video, said, "I want the local tobacco preemption bill to pass so I can advocate to my local elected officials about the need for stricter regulations to protect me and my peers from big tobacco."
More than a third of Kentucky middle and high schoolers responding to a recent survey say the pandemic has increased students using e-cigarettes, or "vapes," and other tobacco products. And more than 14 percent said they believe e-cigarettes are safer for them to smoke than traditional cigarettes, according to the survey by the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky and Kentucky Youth Advocates.
Prevention and Cessation Funding
A Kentucky revenues forecast by the Consensus Forecasting Group also noted that the stress of restrictions to prevent the spread of Covid-19 have led some adults to increase the number of cigarettes they smoke daily.
Funding for the state's tobacco prevention and cessation programs was cut by 40 percent this year, from $3.3 million to $2 million. This money helps fund the state's QuitNow smoking cessation hotline as well as tobacco cessation and prevention staff in each of Kentucky's 61 health departments. The cut means only 19 health departments will have such programs. The Coalition is asking legislators to restore the budget to $3.3 million in fiscal 2022.
"We know that legislators have much on their minds during this short budget session and we're grateful to Sen. Adams, Rep. Moser, our other legislative champions, and today's speakers for recognizing that tobacco use and the pandemic are inextricably linked in a way that is just plain deadly," said Ben Chandler, who chairs the Coalition and also serves as president and CEO of the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky.
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