FRANKFORT — Touting legislation to raise the tax on e-cigarettes and ban sales of vaping products to those under 21 was part of a rally by public health advocates in the Capitol Rotunda on Tuesday.

Ben Chandler, president and CEO of the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky, says too many Kentucky adolescents and teens are using e-cigarettes.

“In 2019, more than one in four Kentucky high schoolers used e-cigarettes at least monthly, and so did one in five middle schoolers,” he said. “Middle schooler use quadrupled in just the last two years and the percentage of high schoolers who vape every single day also quadrupled to nearly one in 10.”

Chandler says tobacco use by young people has a different effect than on adults.

“Nicotine use during the adolescent and teen years rewires the brain to raise the risk of other addictions,” he said. “We already have a huge nicotine, opioid and meth problem in Kentucky. We have to prevent predisposing another generation to these addictions.”

According to Chandler, his group has three legislative priorities for the 2020 session: Adding a tax on e-cigarettes that is equivalent to the tax on cigarettes, raising the age to purchase tobacco products from 18 to 21 with effective penalties, and increased funding for tobacco prevention and cessation.

Sen. Ralph Alvarado, R-Winchester, the sponsor of legislation to raise the legal age of tobacco purchases to 21, said, “It will reduce the number of teens who start using tobacco while in their teens, improve their health, and ultimately reduce tobacco use across all age groups in Kentucky.”

Alvarado says his bottom line is this: “My bill will reduce youth access to tobacco products, slash the number of kids who start using tobacco before the age of 18, decrease youth tobacco addiction and lead to lower tobacco use rates overall, as these teens mature and grow into adulthood.”

Although Congress, behind Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, passed a national tobacco 21 bill in December, Alvarado says, “It’s now time for Kentucky to update its statutes to comply with the new federal law.”

A bill introduced by Rep. Jerry T. Miller and supported by the coalition would tax e-cigs at 27.5 percent of their wholesale price, which is parallel to Kentucky's $1.10/pack cigarette tax. Nationwide, e-cig tax rates range from 5 cents per milliliter to 96 percent of the wholesale price.

A poll released Tuesday by the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky found that three in four Kentucky adults support taxing e-cigarettes at the same rate as cigarettes.

The coalition also called for increased state funding for tobacco prevention and cessation efforts.

The rally featured students, health advocates and business leaders.

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