Bill aimed at curbing Kentucky's youth 'vaping epidemic' passes House Skip to content

Bill aimed at curbing Kentucky's youth 'vaping epidemic' passes House

Kentucky Youth Advocates calls on Senate to make it stronger

Photo by Nery Zarate / Unsplash

A bill to curb what its sponsor called the youth “vaping epidemic” in Kentucky passed the state House on Monday and is now in the Senate.

Sponsor Rebecca Raymer (R-Morgantown) told her colleagues that she was inspired to work on the issue after hearing from school officials across the state about how “rampant the vaping is in our schools.”

Raymer said there is a “vaping epidemic,” and most vape products being confiscated from students are not even authorized by the federal Food and Drug Administration.

House Bill 11 passed on a 62-26 vote, with concerns voiced from members of both parties that it would do little to stop youth from vaping, but would harm small vaping businesses.

The bill would require businesses that sell vaping products to acknowledge that in their annual business filings with the secretary of state, who would share it monthly with the Kentucky Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control and the state Department of Revenue. ABC would then be responsible for creating a system that identifies and publishes the retailers who violate the law.

The bill would fine retailers $100 to $500 for a first offense of selling vaping products to anyone under 21, which is consistent with existing law. The penalty for a second offense would be $1,000, and $5,000 for a third violation. A retailer with a fourth violation in two years would be banned from selling vapes. The bill also sets fines for manufacturers and wholesalers.

Terry Brooks, executive director of Kentucky Youth Advocates, lauded the bill’s passage, saying it takes important steps to reduce youth access to addictive nicotine products. But he called for the Senate to strengthen it.

“Provisions of this bill will provide a more complete understanding of the retail landscape by creating a database of tobacco and nicotine product retailers, which is a critical first step to ensure that bad actors selling to underage kids are penalized,” Brooks said in a news release. “But the ability to hold retailers accountable for responsibly selling tobacco and nicotine products relies on regular compliance checks for underage sales violations.”

He added, “Youth have been targeted with flavored vape products and can quickly become dependent, but there are opportunities to stop this cycle. As HB 11 advances, we hope this bill can go even further by ensuring that regular compliance checks are included in statute.”

Legislators heard a similar plea from Mallory Jones, a junior at George Rogers Clark High School in Winchester, at the March 7 committee hearing.

“Addressing the source of these products is critical to reducing youth access and initiation of nicotine, but the rules are only as good as the enforcement that we put behind them,” she said.

According to the 2021 Youth Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System data, 45% of Kentucky’s high-school students said they had used an electronic vapor product, 22% of them were current users, 8% were frequent users, and 7% used the products daily.

Asked how they got them, 12% said they usually bought them at a convenience store, supermarket, discount store or gas station.

Among Kentucky middle-school students, 24% said they had ever used an electronic vapor product, 11% said they were current users; nearly 3% said they were frequent users, and 2% said they used the products daily.

Opposition to the bill

During the House debate, Rep. Savannah Maddox (R-Dry Ridge) said she opposed the bill because it would ban products meant to be used by adults.

“This is being proposed as something that is designed to reduce harm in minor children, when in reality it will do no such thing. These products are already illegal,” she said. “What it will do is harm Kentucky’s businesses.”

Rep. Rachel Roarx (D-Louisville) brought up the concerns voiced by vape-shop owners to the committee, including documentation that showed convenience stores are the bad actors when it comes to selling vapes to minors, and their concerns that the only FDA-approved products have high nicotine levels. She also voiced her concerns that this bill is “granting a monopoly to certain companies.”

Rep. Daniel Grossberg (D-Louisville) said over 90% of his 4,000 emails and phone calls about the bill, many of them small business owners, had asked him to vote against it.

He said “The real problems [are] flavoring and marketing that target our kids,” and called for “stricter controls and enforcement for those who sell to minors, and regulate both the potency and the purity of these products. Rather than us ceding control to the FDA, who has done nothing effective about this. I too want to protect our kids.”

Raymer said several times that the FDA has been granted authority to regulate these products, and that this bill is simply following what the FDA says.

“I don't think the FDA has done a great job in going through this list, but that is what we have to work with,” she said. “And this is how we get the products that are being geared towards these minors off the shelf and products that have gone through no safety checks, we don’t know what’s in them. ... They’re not just harmful for youth, they’re harmful for all Kentucky consumers.”

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Written by Melissa Patrick. Cross-posted from KY Health News.



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Kentucky Health News

Kentucky Health News is an independent news service of the Institute for Rural Journalism, based in the School of Journalism at UK, with support from the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky.

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