Throughout the 2022 General Assembly, Kentucky Youth Advocates (KYA) advocated for policies that are good for Kentuckians’ health, including measures aimed at preventing youth tobacco and e-cigarette use. We know that more than 1 in 4 Kentucky high schoolers use e-cigarettes and the instances of youth using tobacco products has spread into many Kentucky middle schools.
These products pose a number of health risks and ultimately lead to many Kentuckians dying prematurely. New research adds to the growing list of health concerns associated with tobacco and e-cigarette use – more severe symptoms associated with COVID-19 among e-cigarette users.
A new study in the Journal of Primary Care and Community Health found that individuals who test positive for COVID-19 and are e-cigarette users have more severe symptoms such as chest pain, muscle pains, headaches, and altered taste/smell than non-users. Those who use both e-cigarettes and traditional tobacco products were more likely to experience difficulty breathing and be admitted to the emergency room than non-users.
With the increasing number of health concerns associated with tobacco use, we recognize the need for prevention measures and support for cessation for Kentucky kids. This year, lawmakers considered a bill aimed at allowing local communities to develop their own plans to prevent youth tobacco use through local policies as they see fit for their community. Senate Bill 166, sponsored by Senator Schroder, was filed and assigned to the Senate Health and Welfare Committee, yet it did not receive a committee hearing. This bill would have provided an opportunity for local communities to reduce youth tobacco and e-cigarette use by adopting local policies, such as tobacco-free buffer zones around schools and parks or requiring tobacco products to be kept out of sight in stores.
In addition to this missed opportunity, the General Assembly did not include an increase in the state budget to fund tobacco prevention and cessation programs, which help youth, former foster youth, and pregnant women stop using tobacco products.
Although these tobacco prevention efforts did not make it to the finish line this year, we saw momentum around another effort at the end of the legislative session – establishing a statewide tobacco retail licensure. This effort would provide oversight for retail stores selling tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, to ensure age restrictions and other retail policies are being followed in stores and help prevent youth from accessing tobacco products. We are hopeful that lawmakers will continue to explore this option during the interim and consider legislation supporting this effort in 2023.
We at Kentucky Youth Advocates are optimistic that, when the legislature resumes next year, legislators will place Kentucky kids and their families at top of their priority lists and ensure passage of legislation that protects the health and well-being of all Kentuckians, especially our youngest.