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KY Anti-Smoking Advocates React to California Smoking Legislation

Smoke-free advocates in Kentucky say the Bluegrass State is a long way from doing what California lawmakers just did - passing a package of tougher smoking laws. (Greg Stotelmyer)
Smoke-free advocates in Kentucky say the Bluegrass State is a long way from doing what California lawmakers just did - passing a package of tougher smoking laws. (Greg Stotelmyer)
March 10, 2016

FRANKFORT, Ky. - The California State Assembly took historic action last week to curb smoking in the Golden State, a level of prevention that anti-smoking advocates here in Kentucky say the Bluegrass State is far from reaching.

California lawmakers overwhelmingly passed a series of bills in a special session on health care.

The measures include regulating e-cigarettes similarly to tobacco, raising the smoking age to 21 and allowing counties to set their own tobacco taxes.

Ellen Hahn, director of the Kentucky Center for Smoke-free Policy, says state lawmakers here need to focus on changes that could have the most impact on Kentuckians' health - beginning with a statewide workplace smoke-free law.

"We really need to do the things that are going to really reduce our tobacco use rate quickly," says Hahn. "Because we have chronic, intractable health problems from tobacco in Kentucky."

Hahn says also high on the list are raising the cigarette tax and increasing funding for programs that help people quit smoking or never begin.

Among the changes California lawmakers sent to their governor include requiring child-resistant packaging for vaping products and raising the smoking age from 18 to 21, except for active-duty military personnel.

Beverly May is the Western Region director of advocacy for Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.

"You're able to intervene from the 15 or 16 year old being able to get that cigarette from the 19 year old," says May. "It just takes them away further, and what we want to do is delay that onset of youth picking up that first cigarette."

Hahn says while she supports raising the smoking age limit to 21, focusing on that in Kentucky could derail debate on other proposals.

Lawmakers have filed bills in the current legislative session to raise the smoking age, implement a statewide smoke-free law and increase the tobacco tax, but all three bills are stuck in committee.

Hahn says roadblocks at the statehouse persist despite polls showing rising support for tougher smoking laws in Kentucky.

"The political will just has not been there and its not for lack of trying," Hahn says. "I mean, there's plenty of people who want this kind of legislation."

Greg Stotelmyer , Public News Service - KY