Friday, February 19, 2016

Legislation could raise age for tobacco use

by Matt Hughes
J-E Editor

Kentucky has traditionally been known for the export of four products: coal, tobacco, bourbon and race horses. While
the horse racing industry and bourbon business are booming in other parts of the state, coal and tobacco continue come under fire.

Everyone is aware of the situation facing the coal industry, but the issues facing tobacco in the Bluegrass state aren’t as well publicized. Considering Kentucky is second only to North Carolina in tobacco production, any news that affects the industry could be very important to local tobacco growers.

Kentucky Health News’   (KHN) Melissa Patrick reported on Friday, that a bill sponsored by Democratic State Representative David Watkins, a retired physician from Henderson, could potentially increase the tobacco purchasing age from 18 to 21.

“Smoking basically contributes to heart disease, it contributes to chronic lung disease, it contributes to cancer, it contributes to peripheral vascular disease. . .  It does a lot of things that are negative,” said Watkins. “We raised the age to use alcohol to 21 a long time ago. To me, raising the age for individuals to use tobacco to 21, I think, makes sense.”

House Bill 299 was approved last week by the House Health and Welfare Committee and now heads to the House floor. If approved, the bill would take effect August 1, 2016.

Currently, anyone 18 and older can legally buy tobacco and vapor products in 49 of 50 US states.
Hawaii is the only state to have passed similar legislation, although 115 local jurisdictions in nine states have done so.

“I think we need to change the age,” said Donna Bumpus, Donna Bumpus, FRYSC/YES Coordinator at Webster County High School and Middle School. “But if it is changed, it needs to be enforced. Right now there is an issue with teens who are under the age of 18 using tobacco products. The law we have right now isn’t being enforced, and that’s a problem.”

Bumpus and her YES council were responsible for getting Webster County Schools officially 100% tobacco free.

“The older the age gets, the more I think people will pay attention to it,” she added.”
Tobacco production in Kentucky fell in 2015 to 149,830 pounds, down from 214,280
Also reported by KHN last week, a recent Kentucky Health Issues Poll (KHIP), sponsored by Interact for Health and the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky asked Kentuckians about potentially raising the state’s cigarette tax by $1.

The results were pretty evenly split, with just 51 percent of those polled opposing the increase.

“Raising the minimum legal age to buy tobacco serves as a deterrent to keep teenagers from starting tobacco use,” Susan Zepeda, CEO of the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky, said in a news release. “While KHIP shows mixed opinions about increasing cigarette taxes, the data clearly indicates the majority of Kentucky adults recognize the need to try and keep young people from starting tobacco use by raising the minimum legal age to purchase tobacco products.”

Kentucky is one of 11 states with a cigarette tax of 60 cents or less, the foundation noted. Raising the tax by $1 would bring the tax nearly to the $1.61 overall national average, according to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.

Kentucky already has a higher cigarette tax than most of tobacco states: Virginia (30 cents), North Carolina (45 cents), South Carolina (57 cents), Georgia (37 cents) and Tennessee (62 cents). The average for these states is 48.5 cents per pack. The average tax in non-tobacco states is $1.76 per pack, says the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.

The poll was conducted by the Institute for Policy Research at the University of Cincinnati for the foundation and Interact for Health, formerly the Health Foundation of Greater Cincinnati. It surveyed a random sample of 1,608 Kentucky adults via landlines and cell phones.

Kentucky Health News is an independent news service of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, based in the School of Journalism and Telecommunications at the University of Kentucky, with support from the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky.

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