On Wednesday, the Senate Health and Welfare Committee passed a bill that would raise the age to purchase tobacco products from 18 to 21 with a unanimous vote.
Senate Bill 56, sponsored by Sen. Ralph Alvarado, would put Kentucky in compliance with the new federal law which also raises the legal age to buy tobacco products to 21.
Bonnie Hackbarth, vice president of external affairs at the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky, said this legislation would be the most effective enforcement mechanism to cut down on the epidemic of youth tobacco use as recent stats show 1 in 4 high school students are using tobacco products at least monthly, 1 in 10 high schoolers are using vaping products daily, and 2 in 10 middle schoolers are using the same products.
As for why the state needs the legislation, Hackbarth said while the federal legislation puts the policy into effect, the enforcement and penalties are handled at the state level. Senate Bill 56 takes out provisions to punish youth who possess or use but instead puts the focus on retailers and other ways Kentucky children are obtaining the products.
She said putting children using these products marketed directly to them into the criminal justice system is counterproductive and research shows it often results in a worse outcome. However, individuals under 18 caught selling the products can be prosecuted.
Alvarado stated 95 percent of daily smokers started before the age of 21 and this legislation will be able to slash the number of kids who start using, cut down on access to the products, and lower addiction. Read more about this and other tobacco-related bills being backed by a large coalition here.
Senate Bill 56 now moves to the full Senate for a vote.