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KY Lawmakers Balk at Making School Campuses Tobacco-Free

According to the Kentucky Cabinet for Health & Family Services, tobacco use is the state's number-one public health threat. (@Vinokurov_Yury/Twenty20)
According to the Kentucky Cabinet for Health & Family Services, tobacco use is the state's number-one public health threat. (@Vinokurov_Yury/Twenty20)
March 12, 2019

FRANKFORT, Ky. — A bill that would prohibit the use of tobacco products on school property and reduce students' exposure to secondhand smoke is facing a rocky road in the Kentucky General Assembly.

With the days of the legislative session numbered, supporters of the bill say there's still a chance House Bill 11 could pass in the House and move to the Senate. The bill currently awaits a vote by the full House.

Ben Chandler, president of Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky, said he thinks a cultural shift around the acceptance of tobacco use is long overdue in the state.

"It costs us an enormous amount of money economically throughout the state,” Chandler said. “And businesses won't locate in Kentucky when you have a smoking rate is as high as ours is, we have an unhealthy workforce as a result."

According to the American Lung Association, around 9,000 Kentuckians die annually from smoking-related illness. Health care and other economic costs related to smoking are estimated to set the commonwealth back nearly $2 billion each year.

Another bill would have made it harder for kids to get access to cigarettes and e-cigarettes by raising the legal tobacco-purchasing age from 18 to 21. Senate Bill 249 was introduced in the Senate, where it stalled in the Agriculture Committee.

Dr. Terry Brooks, executive director of Kentucky Youth Advocates, said the chamber of commerce, medical groups and even big tobacco supported raising the legal purchasing age to 21. He's puzzled by lawmakers' inaction on the bill.

"You really had a rare constellation of allies. And if you were to ask me today what happened, I would tell you I think that's one of the big mysteries of this session,” Brooks said. “It seemed as if leadership in both chambers were for it, and that just ran off the rails."

So far, six states and the District of Columbia have raised the legal age to purchase tobacco to 21.

Nadia Ramlagan, Public News Service - KY