A bill to raise the legal age for buying all tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, in Kentucky from 18 to 21 was pre-filed this month by State Sen. Ralph Alvarado of Winchester.

    The bill will help Kentucky meet federal law after President Donald 
Trump signed the Fiscal Year 2020 government agreement Friday, which 
included the Tobacco-Free Youth Act.
    The federal act, which was co-sponsored by Senate Majority Leader 
Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., raises the 
nationwide minimum age to buy all tobacco products, including e-
cigarettes and vaping devices, from 18 to 21 and helps protect young 
people from the dangers of nicotine.
    The new legal buying age will go into effect after the Food and Drug 
Administration (FDA) updates its regulations. The FDA has 180 days to 
do so, and the change takes effect 90 days later.
    Alvarado said his filing comes at a good time with the federal 
bill's passage.
    "As a doctor, I think I've been pretty vocal about trying to improve 
the health of Kentucky citizens," he told CNHI Kentucky. "We know 
from a health care perspective, we have the worst youth smoking rate 
in the country. We have a vaping epidemic that has addicted more 
children to nicotine than we had prior. We know those children are 
now statistically more likely to smoke cigarettes since they're vaping."
    Both the state and federal policy changes are backed by numerous 
Kentucky health advocates.
    The Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky, along with the Kentucky 
Medical Association, the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, Kentucky Youth 
Advo-cates, Kentucky School Boards Association, the Kentucky Cancer 
Foun-dation, Greater Louisville Inc. and the Northern Kentucky 
Chamber of Commerce have shown support for Alvarado's bill.
    "Sen. McConnell kept his word to prioritize youth health by 
fostering support for Tobacco 21 in Congress," Foundation for a 
Healthy Kentucky President and CEO Ben Chandler, who worked closely 
with McConnell in developing the legislation, said. "This bill is a 
critical step toward reversing the skyrocketing rates of youth vaping 
nationwide and in Kentucky. We encourage the Kentucky legislature to 
demonstrate similar leadership in passing Sen. Alvarado's Tobacco 21 
bill quickly this coming year."
    Alvarado said the Tobacco 21 bill has floated around the State 
Capitol for several years and had previously received mixed reviews. 
However, he believes there's a renewed interest, especially with Sen. 
McConnell's work on the federal level.
    "Our children are getting hooked on these vape and tobacco products. 
There's a general consensus that we need to do something to help," he 
said.
    Data released in November shows that 6.2 million kids use tobacco, 
and e-cigarettes are, by far, the most popular product among youth. 
Nationwide in 2019, 27.5 percent 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.
    Nearly 90 percent of adult smokers started before age 18, according 
to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
    "Since I introduced my legislation earlier this year to raise the 
minimum nationwide purchase age for tobacco products from 18 to 21, 
stories of vaping related illnesses and deaths—especially among young 
people—have stunned Kentucky and the nation," McConnell said in a 
release. "I'm grateful to the communities, the health advocates and 
my fellow elected officials, including President Trump and Senators 
Todd Young and Mitt Romney, who have joined Senator Kaine and me to 
address this urgent crisis and keep these dangerous products away 
from our children."
    Alvarado's bill would also remove the status offense for those who 
purchase the products underage. He said the bill will instead put 
more pressure on retailers to not sell to underage individuals.
    Jonathan Greene is the editor of The Register; follow him on Twitter @jgreeneRR.

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