Statement by Dr. Terry Brooks, executive director of Kentucky Youth Advocates
The Senate Agriculture Committee had a chance to stand up for Kentucky young people today. Five of its members did as they voted in favor of Senate Bill 249.
Kentucky Youth Advocates and Kentucky’s young people commend Committee Chair Paul Hornback, bill sponsor Senator Stephen Meredith, and Senators Givens, Thayer, and Westerfield. Those five courageous legislative leaders knew that SB 249 addressed a serious health issue among young people.
Though the Commonwealth has seen the rate in teens smoking declining, there’s now an undeniable boom in e-cigarette use. And these harmful products are packed with nicotine, some with enough to equate to up to two packs of cigarettes in one device. Nicotine is a highly addictive drug and adolescents, are particularly vulnerable to its effect as it can cause lasting damage to brain development, among other negative health outcomes. The peak years for first trying tobacco products, including e-cigs, are 6th and 7th grades; these are little kids who are getting hooked on nicotine.
Increasing the minimum sale age for tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, to 21 is a proven measure to prevent and reduce smoking and other tobacco use among youth. Raising the sale age to 21 complements other strategies to reduce tobacco use, including higher tobacco tax, tobacco prevention and cessation education, and tobacco-free school policies. These policies are common sense for keeping our kids healthy and preventing a lifelong addiction to nicotine.
Another opportunity was left on the table – and that involves youth justice. Because the bill will not move forward, there will be no chance to address the wrong-headed criminalization of underage possession and use of tobacco products. Kentucky has embarked on a positive path in reforming the youth justice system, especially around the inappropriate use of status offenses. And an anticipated amendment to SB 249 would have offered a way to advance that cause.
SB 249 would have been a double win for kids as Kentucky protected their futures in the arenas of both health and the justice system. There just weren’t enough Hornbacks, Merediths, Givenses, Thayers, and Westerfields to make that happen.
Stay up-to-date on Blueprint for Kentucky’s Children priorities and other bills that are good for kids on our Kentucky General Assembly Bill Tracker.
About Kentucky Youth Advocates
Kentucky Youth Advocates believes all children deserve to be safe, healthy, and secure. As THE independent voice for Kentucky’s children, we work to ensure policymakers create investments and policies that are good for children. Learn more at www.kyyouth.org.