Cigarette

FRANKFORT, Ky. (WDRB) — Kentucky lawmakers have snuffed out a bill that would have raised the legal age for buying tobacco products and e-cigarettes from 18 to 21.

The sponsor of Senate Bill 249, Sen. Stephen Meredith, said he was primarily aiming to curb the growing number of teenagers using e-cigarettes. During a hearing before the Senate Agriculture Committee, Meredith said part of the problem is the marketing.

“Candy flavors, with children's cereals, and endless fruit combinations just made them very appealing to children, particularly with the misconception that this is a healthy or safe product,” Meredith said.

Meredith said tobacco-related diseases cost the state more than $2 billion.

Even tobacco companies backed the bill, concerned that the federal Food and Drug Administration is going to crack down hard if the states don't act. 

“The FDA has called this an existential crisis for the tobacco industry, and so we're here to with great respect to support 21,” said David Fernandez, a vice president of Altria, the parent company of Philip Morris.

But some committee members, tobacco farmers themselves, objected.

“Where I come from, tobacco is still king,” said Sen. Stan Humphreys of Cadiz. “I think that this bill really goes right in the face of our tobacco growers.”

Even the bill’s supporters expressed reservations

“We are making a cultural shift by making the smoking age 21,” Sen. Damon Thayer said. “So, I don’t know if it's the right thing to do or not.”

By a vote of 6-4, the committee said “not.”

The Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky said the bill was a step in the right direction but did not go far enough to punish retailers who sell tobacco to underage youth.

The bill called for a fine of between $100 and $500 for each violation.

 “What we need is a bill that can either revoke or suspend licenses for retailers who are selling tobacco to underage kids,” foundation spokesperson Bonnie Hackbarth said.

Hackbarth said a better approach to reducing teenage smoking would be the foundation-backed bill that would ban tobacco products on public school campuses. Versions of that bill are still tied up in the House and Senate.

Agriculture Committee Chairman Sen. Paul Hornback said it is possible the bill can be brought back to life. But with just 11 working days left in this session, time is running out.

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