Advocates say restoring local governments’ ability to regulate marketing and sale of tobacco products would fight youth ‘vaping’

Rep. Kim Moser

Giving local governments the ability to regulate tobacco products would help limit young people’s use of the products, which youth say have increased during the pandemic, advocates said in a rally Wednesday.

At a virtual rally hosted by the Coalition for a Smoke-Free Tomorrow, health advocates from across the state urged legislators to restore local control over the marketing and sale of tobacco products, as well as restoring funding for tobacco-addiction prevention and cessation programs.

Using cigarettes or e-cigarettes puts people at greater risk for serious Covid-19 complications, said Republican Rep. Kim Moser of Taylor Mill, sponsor of House Bill 147, one of the local-control bills.

Youth are at risk, too, said Moser, a nurse and addiction-treatment specialist, citing a study published in January in the World Journal of Pediatrics: “Adolescents and teens may believe that their young age protects them from contracting Covid-19, but new data show that’s not true for youth who vape.”

Sen. Julie Raque Adams, R-Louisville, has filed Senate Bill 81, which mirrors Moser’s bill. Both measures would repeal a 1996 law, adopted after lobbying by tobacco-product manufacturers, that stripped local communities of power to regulate sales and marketing of such products.

“Our bills do not mandate that local communities pass new tobacco-control laws,” Adams said. “They simply restore to communities the tools they always had before 1996 to improve local health by reducing tobacco use. We can’t let up our efforts to prevent another generation from becoming hooked on tobacco products. After 24 years and in the midst of a pandemic that puts our families and neighbors at great risk, its time to restore local tobacco control to improve community health.”

Sen. Wil Shroder, R-Wilder said in a video, “My philosophy has always been that first we should look at the local level and see if these issues are better handled by local representatives of the people. You know, in the same sense that we give the authority on whether or not to be a wet or dry county to our local elected officials, I think it only makes sense that we would also empower them with the ability to decide what is appropriate advertising when it comes to tobacco and vaping products.”

J.D. Chaney, CEO of the Kentucky League of Cities, said, “One of the most critical functions of city governments in Kentucky is the protection of public health, and giving the communities the ability to make local decisions regarding the regulation of tobacco helps advance that important mission.”

Hazard-Perry County Chamber of Commerce President Betsy Clemons added, “Local tobacco control is so important, especially in Eastern Kentucky, where we have a major focus on the importance of a healthy workforce, as well as improving the health and lives of our youth and citizens in rural Kentucky.”

The rally also heard from youth advocates such as Hannah Abdon, high-school junior from Northern Kentucky, who said, “It is upsetting to me that in my community, kids will be more likely to smoke and vape because of the exposure they get to these products on a daily basis.”

More than a third of Kentucky teens and pre-teens in a recent poll said the pandemic has increased students using e-cigarettes other tobacco products, and more than 14 percent said they believed that e-cigarettes are safer for them to use than traditional cigarettes. The poll was conducted by Kentucky Youth Advocates and the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky, which staffs the Coalition for a Smoke-Free Tomorrow.

The pandemic also appears to have increased use among adults. A revenue forecast by the Consensus Forecasting Group, which guides state budget writers, noted that the stress of the pandemic and its restrictions have led some adults to increase the number of cigarettes they smoke daily.
The rally also asked the General Assembly to restore funding for the state’s tobacco prevention and cessation programs, which the legislature cut by 40% in this fiscal year, from $3.3 million to $2 million. The cut meant only 19 of the state’s 61 health departments have such programs.
Ben Chandler, who chairs the coalition and is president and CEO of the foundation, said “We know that legislators have much on their minds during this short budget session and we’re grateful to Sen. Adams, Rep. Moser, our other legislative champions, and today’s speakers for recognizing that tobacco use and the pandemic are inextricably linked in a way that is just plain deadly.”
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