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
"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
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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