Most Ky. adults for statewide smoking ban and raising legal age to buy tobacco to 21, but movement unlikely soon on either issue

A majority of Kentucky adults continue to support a comprehensive statewide smoke-free law and favor raising the legal age to buy tobacco products from 18 to 21 years, according to the latest Kentucky Health Issues Poll.

The telephone survey, taken Aug. 26 through Oct. 21, found that 66 percent of Kentucky adults support a comprehensive statewide smoke-free law, down from 71 percent in the last two polls, but generally about the same since 2013. The poll’s margin of error is plus or minus 2.5 percentage points for each number.

The poll found about the same support as last year, 56 percent, for raising the legal age to buy tobacco products in Kentucky to 21.

“Neither proposal is the subject of a bill in the 2019 legislative session, but it’s important for policymakers to recognize both that these laws work, and that the public strongly supports them,” said Ben Chandler, president and CEO of the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky, which co-sponsors the poll.

This year, bills have already been introduced in the House and Senate to prohibit the use of tobacco products, including the highly popular electronic cigarettes, on school properties. The latest poll on this topic shows that 87 percent of Kentucky adults would support such a law.

The Kentucky Health Issues Poll found that a statewide smoking ban still has strong bipartisan backing, but since the 2016 poll was taken support has dropped among Republicans, to 62 percent from 72 percent, and among independents, to 55 percent from 68 percent.

Kentuckians who say they have never smoked continue to voice the greatest support for a statewide smoking ban, at 75 percent, followed by former smokers, at 67 percent. And nearly half of current smokers, 46 percent, favor such a law.

A statewide smoke-free law would prohibit smoking in public places, including workplaces, public buildings, offices, restaurants and bars throughout Kentucky. About 35 percent of Kentuckians live in cities or counties that have adopted such laws. Nationwide, 28 states and the District of Columbia have passed statewide smoke-free laws.

The state House passed a statewide smoking ban in 2015, but its takeover by Republicans after the election of a Republican governor has dimmed prospects for such a law. Gov. Matt Bevin has said it is a matter for local governments, not the state.

As with support for a smoke-free law, the percentage of Kentucky adults who favor raising the minimum legal age to purchase tobacco in Kentucky to 21 has held steady for the past three years, with six in 10 Kentucky adults in favor of making this change.

Such a law is often referred to as a “Tobacco 21” law. According to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, six states and at least 430 cities and counties have adopted such a policy.

According to a 2015 Institute of Medicine report, a Tobacco 21 law would reduce the smoking rate by about 12 percent and smoking-related deaths by 10 percent over the long term. The report adds that among teens ages 15 to 17, such a law would decrease initiation of tobacco use 25 percent, says the release.

“Kids today are the primary feeder market for the nicotine-addicted tobacco customers of tomorrow,” Chandler said. “Most youth who experiment with tobacco products start at about age 13 or 14, and they often get their tobacco products from older teens. Between the ages of 18 and 21 is when youthful experimentation turns into adult addiction. Tobacco 21 laws reduce both experimentation and addiction at a time when young brains are vulnerable to irreparable damage from nicotine.”

The poll is funded by the foundation and Interact for Health, a Cincinnati-area foundation. It surveyed a random sample of 1,569 adults via landlines and cell-phones.

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