Kentucky House to vote on bill banning tobacco and vaping in schools

A bill that would ban the use of tobacco and vaping products in Kentucky public schools is headed to the full House for a vote, after it was unanimously approved by the House Education Committee on Tuesday. The bill, House Bill 142, would require school districts to adopt and enforce policies that prohibit the possession, use, and distribution of any tobacco, alternative nicotine, or vapor products on school property, in school vehicles, or at school-sponsored events.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Kim Moser, a Republican from Taylor Mill, said that the bill is intended to curb the rising rates of youth tobacco use, especially vaping, and to protect the health of students, staff, and visitors. She said that tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable death and disease in Kentucky, and that vaping poses serious health risks, such as lung damage, nicotine addiction, and exposure to harmful chemicals.

Moser said that the bill would also help schools comply with the federal law that raised the minimum age to buy tobacco products from 18 to 21, and that it would provide consistency and clarity for school administrators, who currently have different policies across the state. She said that the bill would not punish students who are addicted to nicotine, but rather offer them resources and support to quit.

Bill receives support from health and education groups

The bill received strong support from various health and education groups, who testified in favor of the bill at the committee hearing. They said that the bill would send a clear message that tobacco and vaping products are not acceptable in schools, and that it would create a healthier and safer environment for learning.

Dr. Pat Withrow, the director of pediatric cardiology at the University of Kentucky, said that he has seen firsthand the devastating effects of vaping on young people’s hearts and lungs. He said that vaping can cause inflammation, blood clots, and cardiac arrest, and that some of his patients have needed heart transplants or lung surgeries. He said that the bill would help prevent more cases like these, and that it would save lives.

Eric Kennedy, the director of advocacy for the Kentucky School Boards Association, said that the bill would help school boards implement and enforce anti-vaping policies, and that it would reduce the administrative burden and legal liability for schools. He said that the bill would also empower school staff to confiscate and dispose of any tobacco or vaping products they find on school grounds, and that it would require schools to discipline repeat offenders.

Bill faces opposition from tobacco and retail groups

The bill, however, faced opposition from some tobacco and retail groups, who argued that the bill would infringe on the rights of adult consumers, hurt small businesses, and create a black market for tobacco and vaping products. They also claimed that the bill would have little effect on youth tobacco use, as they would find other ways to access the products or switch to unflavored ones.

Tom Briant, the executive director of the National Association of Tobacco Outlets, testified against the bill, saying that it would violate the commerce clause of the U.S. Constitution and invite legal challenges. He said that the bill would create an uneven playing field for Kentucky retailers, who would lose customers to neighboring states or online sellers that offer tobacco and vaping products. He also said that the bill would harm the state’s revenue, as tobacco taxes account for more than $300 million annually.

Jim Harrison, the president of the Kentucky Retail Federation, also opposed the bill, saying that it would put an additional burden on retailers who are already struggling due to the COVID-19 pandemic. He said that many of his members rely on tobacco sales to stay afloat, and that losing tobacco and vaping products would reduce their profits and force some of them to close. He also said that the bill would not address the root causes of youth tobacco use, such as peer pressure, stress, and mental health issues.

Bill’s fate is uncertain

The bill’s fate is uncertain, as it faces a tight deadline to pass both chambers before the end of the legislative session in March. The bill also faces the possibility of a veto from Gov. Andy Beshear, a Democrat, who has expressed reservations about the bill in the past. Beshear has said that he is concerned about the impact of the bill on the state’s economy, especially on the tobacco industry and farmers. He has also said that he is not sure that the bill would achieve its intended goals, and that he would prefer to focus on education and prevention efforts.

The bill’s supporters, however, are hopeful that they can persuade Beshear to sign the bill, or at least not veto it. They say that they have the backing of the majority of Kentuckians, who support banning tobacco and vaping products in schools, according to a recent poll. They also say that they have the evidence to show that the bill would reduce youth tobacco use, improve public health, and save lives. They say that they are ready to fight for the bill until the end, and that they will not give up on their mission to protect Kentucky’s children and future generations from the harms of tobacco and vaping products.

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