(LOUISVILLE, Ky – February 7, 2017) About six in 10 Kentucky adults favor raising the legal age to buy tobacco products from 18 to 21 years, a level unchanged since 2015 among Democrats and Republicans. Among those identifying themselves politically as Independent, support rose from 55 percent to 65 percent in the last two years, according to the latest Kentucky Health Issues Poll.
KHIP is an annual poll of Kentucky adults’ opinions on health issues; it is funded jointly by the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky and Interact for Health.
According to Ben Chandler, president and CEO of the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky, “The longer we can keep our youth from smoking, and the harder we make it to buy cigarettes, the healthier Kentucky will be. It’s that clear-cut.”
Two states ─ California and Hawaii ─ and more than 200 local jurisdictions in 14 states have raised the minimum legal age to buy tobacco products to 21. Kentucky law prohibits local jurisdictions from adopting youth access legislation for tobacco, so raising the current legal age to buy tobacco in the Commonwealth would require action by the state legislature, Chandler said.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nearly 17 percent of Kentucky high school youth smoke, significantly more than the national rate of 10.8 percent. Kentucky ranks 36th of 37 states reporting this data. The rate has fallen; it was 24 percent in 2011, according to the CDC.
“The research shows that most tobacco use starts in the teen and young adult years and that making it a little bit harder to buy the products significantly reduces their use,” Chandler added. “We also know that smoking damages nearly every organ in the body and leads to a myriad of diseases later on. So raising the legal age to buy tobacco is one of the easiest policy changes Kentucky can make to improve health and shrink health care costs. Our poll shows that the majority of Kentuckians support it, so why wouldn’t we do that?”
Support for changing current law varied somewhat by region and political party, but the majority from every region continued to support it, KHIP found. While 51 percent of Northern Kentuckians and 53 percent of those living in the Lexington area said they favored the change, 61 percent of those in Western Kentucky, 59 percent in the Louisville area and 60 percent in Eastern Kentucky favored it.
In terms of political identification, 59 percent of those who said they were either Democrats or Republicans favored the change, compared to 65 percent of those who identified as Independents.
A copy of the KHIP report on this topic is available here. The previous report in which this question was asked is available here.
About the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky
Since the Foundation opened its doors in 2001, it has invested nearly $26.7 million in health policy research and advocacy, as well as demonstration project grants across the Commonwealth. Funded by an endowment, the mission of the nonpartisan Foundation is to address the unmet health care needs of Kentuckians by developing and influencing health policy, improving access to care, reducing health risks and disparities, and promoting health equity. Follow the Foundation on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, and visit our website at www.healthy-ky.org.
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Bonnie J. Hackbarth