On Tuesday, the Smoke-Free Tomorrow coalition held a press conference to announce their support for three key initiatives to reduce tobacco use in Kentucky
Ben Chandler, president and CEO of the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky, started his remarks by noting Kentucky has just experienced its first reported death as a result of vaping, a young man in his 20s. Chandler stated it is more important than ever to pass policies that cut down on tobacco use and increase education on the harmful effects of these products.
The coalition will be pushing for three key bills in the 2020 session including making e-cigarettes and vaping products subject to the same tax as cigarettes (those products are not currently taxed at all), raising the age to purchase tobacco from 18 to 21, and increasing spending on education and prevention at the state level.
Kentucky Chamber President and CEO Ashli Watts added the support of the business community by noting tobacco use is a health and economic issue that is killing Kentuckians and bankrupting the state. Watts stated bills to cut down on smoking in Kentucky are a win-win for the state and explained legislation to increase the tax on tobacco products can generate revenue and improve health outcomes.
State Sen. Ralph Alvarado, a doctor from Winchester, has filed the legislation to raise the tobacco age from 18 to 21. Alvarado stated most tobacco use starts before age 18 and if this legislation were to pass then Kentucky will be able to slash the number of kids who start using, cut down on access to the products, and lower addiction. He added the legislation will also hold retailers accountable who sell the products to Kentucky youth without checking identification.
Abby Hefner, a sophomore at McCracken County High School, described her experience using vaping products as a freshman when friends encouraged her to try it for the first time at a football game. Hefner said she used money from birthdays and babysitting gigs to pay for the e-cigarettes older friends would buy for her. She said she tried to quit many times but the withdrawals and headaches she experienced when she wasn’t vaping led her to continue use until she was away for the summer and was able to quit when her supply was cut off.
Hefner said if it was a regular cigarette, she had been offered at that football game, she would have said no because of how “disgusting and harmful” she knows they are. However, she said she didn’t know the same about vaping products and that’s why more education is needed.
State Rep. Kim Moser was unable to make the press conference but shared her comments through the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky. Moser, who sponsored the tobacco-free schools bill in 2019 that is now law in Kentucky, touted progress made through that initiative as well as raising the cigarette tax but said there is more work to be done. Moser said she is supportive of all the initiatives highlighted by the Smoke-Free Tomorrow coalition and said more money must be spent on education and prevention to combat the tobacco industry spending of hundreds of millions on advertising their products, and she added every dollar Kentucky spent by the state in this area yields a $5 return because of health outcomes.
Read more about each of the policies here: