Legislature will again be asked to let local governments pass tobacco-regulation ordinances, aimed at preventing youth use

Sen. Paul Hornback

By Melissa Patrick
Kentucky Health News

Kentucky lawmakers can expect another bill to be filed in January to give local governments the ability to regulate tobacco products, touted as a another tool in the box to limit young people’s use of the products, advocates said on a training webinar Wednesday.

The Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky “Health for a Change” webinar provided education on the potential impacts of local tobacco control in anticipation of 2022 legislation that would restore local control over the marketing, sale and distribution of tobacco products.

Republican Sen. Paul Hornback of Shelbyville said on a recorded video that he supports repealing the law, adopted in 1996 after lobbying by tobacco-product manufacturers, that stripped local communities of the power to regulate the sale, marketing and distribution of such products.

“As a father, grandfather, lawmaker, tobacco farmer, I’m outraged at the the marketing tactics that have been used to attract our youth, leading to more than one in four Kentucky high schoolers using e- cigarettes. . . . Please join me today in support of repealing the old law and restoring local control to our communities and protecting our youth,” Hornback said.

He added, “Restoring these options does not create a mandate to pass laws, it only gives communities that are ready the opportunity to enact their own protections.” Hornback announced in June that he will not run for reelection in 2022.

Mahak Kalra, chief policy and advocacy officer for Kentucky Youth Advocates, applauded the General Assembly for its efforts to curb youth use of tobacco products: passing a statewide tobacco-free school policy, increasing tobacco taxes and raising the legal minimum age to buy tobacco products to 21.

“The commonwealth is trying to continue to build off this legislative momentum,” Kalra said. “Everyone from policymakers to advocates to educators to parents need to be involved in this effort from keeping tobacco products away from our children and we hope that you alongside of your alongside your network of advocates will join us in this effort.”
Sen. Julie Raque Adams, R-Louisville, who sponsored a local-control bill in the 2021 session, said at the Kentucky Voices for Health annual meeting that it will be hard for such a bill to gain traction during a session in which the legislature must pass a state budget. “We’re going to have to fight to get some airtime on that issue,” she said. “We only have so much bandwidth.”
Kalra said that while tobacco products are evolving, the tobacco industry’s tactics to get products into the hands of youth have remained the same since the 1960s and that every effort should be made to minimize youth exposure to these products.
“The reality is that nearly 90% of tobacco users first try a tobacco product by age 18. But if they did not start using nicotine by age 26, they are unlikely to never start,” she said.
Allison Adams, vice president for policy at the health foundation, painted a picture of youth use of tobacco in Kentucky. She said nearly 30% of high schoolers report using any tobacco product and 19.7% of middle schoolers are using some sort of tobacco product, the highest rate among the 11 states surveyed.
Adams said that among current high school users of electronic cigarettes, 43.6% use vapes frequently (20 or more days in past 30 days) and 27.6% use them daily, indicating a strong dependence on nicotine among our youth that will ultimately result in 119,000 Kentuckians to die prematurely from tobacco use.
Foundation for Healthy Kentucky graphic

“Time is of the essence to add more tools to our toolbox,” Adams said. “We can’t express enough the urgency of the issue to stop the nicotine addiction that we are experiencing and seeing in Kentucky amongst our youth.”

Katherine Morrison, a youth advocate from McCracken County, said vaping is a real problem in her school and that many youth who would never consider smoking traditional cigarettes will use electronic cigarettes because of their flavors and lack of an offensive smell.
If the 1996 law is repealed, local communities would have the option to enact ordinances to keep children from being exposed to the products, such as buffer zones for sales of vaping products near schools, requiring products to be under a counter rather than point-of-sale locations, and restricting advertising on marquees or store windows, said Shannon Smith of the American Heart Association. She said local communities would still not be able to raise taxes on tobacco or vape products.
Prestonsburg Mayor Les Stapleton said he supports legislation that allows local control because communities know what works best for them. He said some will be more willing to enforce stricter measures than others.
Smith promoted the Nix the Next campaign, which seeks support for repealing the 1996 law. The Kentucky Youth Advocates webpage for the campaign includes information on ways to contact legislators about the issue.
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