(FRANKFORT, Ky - January 14, 2020) Youth e-cigarette use, often called "vaping," continues to surge in Kentucky, more than quadrupling among middle school students and nearly doubling among high school students from 2017 to 2019. Students, health advocates and business leaders representing the Coalition for a Smoke-Free Tomorrow rallied in Frankfort this morning to urge Kentucky lawmakers to adopt several measures that will reduce vaping and other tobacco use among adolescents and teens.
Legislation supported by the Coalition, which comprises more than 225 Kentucky organizations, includes:
- Adding an excise tax on the sale of e-cigarettes that is equivalent to the current tax on cigarettes;
- Raising Raising the minimum legal age for sales of tobacco products from 18 to 21 and removing the status offense for underage purchase, use and possession of tobacco products; and
- Increasing funding for tobacco use prevention and cessation efforts.
"Kentuckians broadly support the measures that research tells us will curb the youth e-cigarette epidemic, which continues to expand at alarming rates in the Commonwealth," said Ben Chandler, chair of the Coalition for a Smoke-Free Tomorrow. "We can't stop now. More needs to be done to build on the success of last year's tobacco-free schools law if we're going to turn the tide on rampant adolescent and teen vaping."
Rep. Kim Moser's tobacco-free schools bill was a strong first step in addressing the youth vaping epidemic. But there is more that needs to be done, Moser said.
"The Kentucky student vaping rate continues to skyrocket," Rep. Moser said. "In addition to chang-ing Kentucky's Tobacco 21 law this year, we need to raise the price of e-cigarettes with an excise tax, and devote a more appropriate level of resources to preventing tobacco use in the first place and to helping addicted smokers and vapers quit."
"If we can make it more difficult for teens to start vaping while bringing in extra revenue for our state budget, it's a win-win for Kentucky," said Ashli Watts, President and CEO of the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce. "The Kentucky Chamber is pleased to stand with the Coalition for a Smoke-Free Tomorrow on key issues that will help bring a healthier workforce to the Commonwealth."
E-cigarettes are the only tobacco product sold in Kentucky not subject to a state excise tax. The Coalition wants the state to tax them at the same rate as cigarettes. A bill introduced by Rep. Jerry T. Miller and supported by the Coalition would tax e-cigs at 27.5 percent of their wholesale price, which is parallel to Kentucky's $1.10/pack cigarette tax. Nationwide, e-cig tax rates range from 5 cents per milliliter to 96 percent of the wholesale price.
The bill would generate an estimated $34 million its first year. The Coalition notes that a 10 percent increase in the price would reduce disposable e-cig sales by approximately 12 percent and reusable e-cig sales by 19 percent. Research shows that price increases are particularly effective among youth and pregnant women. Rep. Miller called his bill a "classic win-win scenario" when he pre-filed it in July 2019.
"I call upon legislators to enact a tax on e-cigarette equal to the current tax on cigarettes. In doing so, we will be taking great strides toward preventing e-cigarette usage among youth. Most kids my age have very little cash flow. Even though I work two jobs, I would have a hard time finding the extra money to purchase e-cigarettes, especially if a tax was added. Adding the e-cigarette tax is a no brainier - you can't purchase what you can't afford," said Campbell County student and tobacco-free youth ambassador Ana Pohlgeers.
A poll released today by the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky found that three in four Kentucky adults support taxing e-cigarettes at the same rate as cigarettes.
The Coalition also supports updating Kentucky statutes to comply with the new federal law raising the minimum legal age for tobacco products purchasers from 18 to 21.
"A strong tobacco 21 bill reduces the number of kids and teens who try e-cigarettes and other tobacco products and then get addicted," said Sydney Shaffer, Miss Central Kentucky's Outstanding Teen 2020, whose platform is #NoSafeSmoking. Shaffer added: "A lot of students get Juuls from friends who are just a little bit older - maybe 18 or 19. Raising the age makes it harder for those older kids to buy and share them."
Sen. Ralph Alvarado has filed a Tobacco 21 bill that includes provisions supported by the Coalition to remove the status offense and penalties for youth who purchase, use or possess tobacco products.
"It allows the products to be confiscated and penalizes retailers who fail to adequately check buyers' ID, but the evidence shows that educating kids about the dangers of tobacco use leads to far better health outcomes than putting them into the juvenile justice system," Sen. Alvarado said. "The bottom line is that my 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."
Kentucky's fiscal 2020 budget for programs to prevent tobacco use and help smokers quit is $3.3 million, less than 1/84th of the nearly $280 million spent annually by the tobacco industry to market their products in the Commonwealth. Tobacco revenues to the Kentucky treasury total more than $500 million a year, yet the state spends just 6.7 percent of what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends for tobacco control and cessation. The Coalition is urging the General Assembly to raise the annual budget to $10 million, which would allow the state Department for Public Health to conduct multi-media education campaigns about the dangers of e-cigarettes and other tobacco use, and expand its cessation and other services.
"Kids don't understand that e-cigs contain very high levels of nicotine that threaten the way their brain works and puts them at risk for a lifetime of addictions," Chandler said. "We've got to hit them from every angle with messages that vaping is a very dangerous choice."
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About the Coalition for a Smoke-Free Tomorrow
The Coalition for a Smoke-Free Tomorrow is committed to its mission of improving Kentucky's health by protecting Kentuckians from secondhand smoke and other tobacco emissions, and by reducing the high rate of smoking and tobacco use in the Commonwealth. For more information, please visit www.smokefreetomorrow.org.
The Coalition is led by representatives of the American Heart Association, American Lung Association, Baptist Health, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky, Humana, Kentucky Cancer Foundation, Kentucky Center for Smoke-Free Policy, Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, Kentucky Council of Churches, Kentucky Equal Justice Center, Kentucky Health Collaborative, Kentucky Health Departments Association, Kentucky Hospital Association, Kentucky Medical Association, Kentucky Nurses Association, Kentucky School Boards Association, Kentucky Voices for Health, and Kentucky Youth Advocates. Other partners and members of the Coalition represent a broad array of more than 210 groups, including Kentucky business leaders, health advocates, health care providers and payers, educators, and faith community leaders.