Bill to raise legal age to purchase tobacco products from 18 to 21 passes state Senate 28-10, goes to House

By Melissa Patrick

Kentucky Health News

A bill to raise the legal age to purchase tobacco products, including electronic cigarettes, from 18 to 21 passed the state Senate 28-10 and went to the House.

Senate Bill 56, sponsored by Sen. Ralph Alvarado, R-Winchester, would bring Kentucky’s statute in line with the new federal law raising the age to 21, which has already gone into effect.

It also removes status offenses for youth who purchase, use or possess tobacco products, which are often called PUP laws.

“The bottom line is this bill will reduce youth access to tobacco products, slash the number of kids who start using tobacco before age 18, decrease youth tobacco addiction and lead to lower tobacco-use rates overall as these teens grow and mature into adulthood,” said Alvarado, chair of the Senate Health and Welfare Committee.

The bill passed with a committee substitute adding language to make it better fit the federal law and remove penalties for 18- to 20-year-olds.

SB 56 allows the products to be confiscated and shifts the penalty to retailers who fail to adequately check buyers’ identifications.

Senate Republican Caucus Chair Julie Raque Adams of Louisville praised the bipartisan bill, which is largely aimed at decreasing the epidemic of electronic-cigarette use among youth.

“We were so close to having nicotine be eliminated from one of the problems we had to add for our youth across the state,” she said. “Unfortunately, with the introduction of vaping … we now have an entire population that is addicted to nicotine once again.”

Between 2017 and 2019, e-cigarette use more than quadrupled among Kentucky’s middle-school students and nearly doubled among its high-school students, with one in four high schoolers and one in five middle schoolers reporting monthly use; and one in 10 high school students reporting daily use.

similar bill was introduced in the last legislative session, but tobacco-friendly senators blocked it. Some tobacco companies lobbied for it, and the federal change, to reduce pressure for regulation of electronic cigarettes.

Voting against Alvarado’s bill were Sens. Matt Castlen, R-Owensboro; Perry Clark, D-Louisville; Stan Humphries, R-Cadiz; Robby Mills, R- Henderson; John Schickel, R-Union; Wil Schroder, R-Wilder; Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown; Robin Webb, D-Grayson; Stephen West, R-Paris; and Mike Wilson, R-Bowling Green.

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