FRANKFORT — Anyone under the age of 21 would be prohibited from buying tobacco products and inhaled vapor products in Kentucky under a bill approved by the House Health and Welfare Committee on Thursday.
House Bill 299, sponsored by Rep. David Watkins, D-Henderson, and Rep. Joni Jenkins, D-Shively, would take effect this August 1 should it become law. Currently, anyone 18 and older can legally buy tobacco and vapor products—including electronic cigarettes—in the state.
“Smoking contributes to heart disease, it contributes to chronic lung disease, it contributes to cancer, it contributes to peripheral vascular disease, so it does a lot of things that are negative,” said Watkins, a physician. “We raised the age to use alcohol to 21 a long time ago… to me, raising the age for individuals to use tobacco to 21, I think, makes sense.”
Under HB 299, penalties for selling tobacco products to those under age would stay the same for retailers, who now face fines of $100-$500 for a first violation and $500-$1,000 for subsequent violations. The bill would impose new penalties for those buying such products under age—$100-$500 for each violation, with punishment for youth under age 18 handled in juvenile court.
Only Hawaii has raised the legal smoking age to 21 so far, said Watkins.
Rep. Tim Moore, R-Elizabethtown, said he would like those who are age 18 and older who either serve or have served in the U.S. military to be exempt from the proposed restrictions in HB 299.
“I do not want to (legally) impose on them who have given and sacrificed… however altruistic it is in this case, on those young men and women who have served in harm’s way in combat situations and are younger than age 21,” said Moore.
Watkins said he has great respect for the military but “I don’t feel like we should make an exception. I think if we want to really do them a favor, we’ll help them to stop smoking.”
HB 299 now goes to the House floor for consideration.