Nearly six in 10 Kentucky adults favor raising the legal age to buy tobacco products from 18 to 21 years, according to the Kentucky Health Issues Poll.
The survey, taken Oct. 24-Dec. 2, found that 58 percent of Kentucky adults favored such a law and 39 percent opposed it, with majority support from both Democrats (63 percent) and Republicans (56 percent). Support among independents was 46 percent. Support was strongest in the Louisville and Lexington areas and lowest in Northern Kentucky.
“Most smoking starts before kids turn 21, so if we can dramatically reduce purchases before that age, we have a much greater chance of preventing adult smoking,” said Ben Chandler, president and CEO of the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky, which co-sponsors the poll.
To date, five states — California, Hawaii, Maine, New Jersey and Oregon — have raised the age to buy tobacco to 21, along with 285 cities and counties across the nation, according to release.
Anyone 18 and older can legally buy tobacco and vapor products in Kentucky, and the state’s law doesn’t allow that age to be adjusted by “local law, ordinance or regulation,” says the release.
A bill has been introduced to eliminate that prohibition. Senate Bill 93, sponsored by Republican Sens. Julie Raque Adams of Louisville and Alice Forgy Kerr of Lexington, “would repeal that prohibition and allow cities and counties to adopt stricter tobacco display and sales regulations than enacted at the statewide level,” says the release.
A bill to raise the legal age to 21 was last introduced in 2016 and passed out of committee, but never made it to the floor for a vote.
The release notes that the recently formed Coalition for a Smoke-Free Tomorrow, chaired by Chandler, supports this legislation.
“Raising the legal age to purchase tobacco products is a research-based method to keep kids from starting, and helps protect their right to breathe smoke-free air and grow up in a tobacco-free environment,” said Chandler.
According to the 2015 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Youth Risk Behavior Survey, 16.9 percent of high school students in Kentucky smoke, which is twice the national average rate of 8 percent for the same year. The most recent 2017 survey shows Kentucky’s teen smoking rate has dropped to 14.3 percent. However, youth use of electronic cigarettes has increased.
Approximately 90 percent of adults who are daily smokers report they first smoked before they turned 19; and 2,900 youth under the age of 18 become new daily smokers every year in Kentucky, according to the release.
The poll is funded by the foundation and Interact for Health, a Cincinnati-area foundation. It surveyed a random sample of 1,692 Kentucky adults via landlines and cell pones. The margin of error for each statewide result is plus or minus 2.4 percentage points.