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KY communities continue push for local tobacco control

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State lawmakers are expected to file a tobacco-control bill next year. Healthcare advocacy groups and local elected officials say communities must have the right to implement their own, stronger smoke-free protections.

Since 1996, Kentucky and a dozen other states have enacted so-called preemption laws, which bar cities and counties from deciding how tobacco products are marketed, sold and distributed at the local level.

Meanwhile, more than one third of Kentucky students report the pandemic has increased their use of e-cigarettes and vapes. McCracken County high school student Katharine Morrison said she sees her friends relying on tobacco to cope with stress and isolation during the COVID-19 crisis.

“I feel like people used it more because they were depressed and they thought that it was helping them,” said Morrison.

Kentucky's rates of tobacco use are among the highest in the nation, and lawmakers have responded by implementing a statewide tobacco-free school policy, increasing tobacco taxes and raising the legal minimum age to buy tobacco products to 21.

The tobacco and vaping industries and some retailers continue to oppose local control, arguing it hurts sales and independent businesses.

Mayor of Prestonsburg Les Stapleton said he’d like the opportunity to implement measures to reduce smoking and improve the health of residents in his community.

“And I understand that a lot of laws have to be statewide,” said Stapleton. “But it’s a lot easier for some communities to be able to govern themselves on some issues.”

State Sen. Paul Hornback (R-Shelbyville) said nicotine addiction will continue to be a costly public health issue if the cycle of tobacco use among young kids isn’t stopped.

“And they're getting their hands on them in some way and go out and resell them to other kids,” said Hornback. “There needs to be better control on that, you know. The flavors and everything else need to be eliminated.”

In its “2022 Blueprint for Kentucky's Children,” the group Kentucky Youth Advocates calls on the state to allow city and county governments to regulate the display, sale and distribution of tobacco products.

According to state data, last year, tobacco and e-cigarette companies spent more than $788,000 lobbying Kentucky lawmakers.

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Written by Nadia Ramlagan. Provide by Kentucky News Service.

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