Saturday, October 09, 1999

Patton: Penalize teen-age smokers

Lawmakers say restricting sales is enough

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        FORT MITCHELL — Kentucky Gov. Paul Patton says it does not make sense for the state to fine minors who try to buy tobacco, but to impose no penalty for using it. But Northern Kentucky lawmakers said Friday that he will have a tough time persuading the legislature to pass a bill making it illegal for juveniles to use or possess tobacco.

        Kentucky already prohibits the sale of tobacco products to minors, which some lawmakers say represents a bold move to crack down on teen-age smoking in a tobacco-rich state.

        Kentucky is the nation's largest burley tobacco producer and has the highest underage- smoking rate in the nation.

        Mr. Patton raised the issue Thursday in discussing possible uses of money from the national settlement of health lawsuits against tobacco companies. The state is scheduled to get $3.45 billion over 25 years.

        “It is hypocritical to say you can't buy it, but if somehow you get it, you're going (to be allowed) to smoke it,” Mr. Patton said Thursday.

        According to the American Lung Association, 44 states — including Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana — prohibit young people from buying tobacco products, and 30 have penalties for possessing tobacco.

        Mr. Patton, a Democrat expected to win re-election next month, said he has not worked out the details of any potential law or discussed the idea with legislative leaders. And he isn't ruling out other methods to dissuade tobacco use among young people.

        State Rep. Royce Adams, D-Dry Ridge, a tobacco grower close to Mr. Patton, said he would not support such a bill.

        “I don't know where the governor is coming from on this,” Mr. Adams said Friday. “I think we are doing a commendable job in curbing teen smoking in not allowing them to buy tobacco.

        “This is a law that would be very difficult to pass and very difficult to enforce,” he said.

        “I want some more information,” said State Sen. Ernie Harris, R-Crestwood, who grows tobacco on his Oldham County farm. “But I think it's a little excessive ... and I don't think something like that would pass the General Assembly.”

        In the most recent survey by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 47 percent of Kentucky high school students said they had smoked at least once in the prior month in 1997, and 29 percent said they'd used smokeless tobacco.

        It is illegal in Kentucky for those under 18 to buy tobacco products or attempt to use fake identification to buy them. It is also illegal for retailers to sell tobacco to minors.

        House Majority Caucus Chairman Jim Callahan, D-Wilder, said Mr. Patton may just be “throwing out ideas” in talking about spending the tobacco settlement money.

        State Rep. Steve Nunn, R-Glasgow, sponsored a bill in the 1998 legislature that would have allowed police to confiscate tobacco products from anyone 18 or under.

        The bill, which did not include a criminal penalty, died in the House. Mr. Nunn has filed it for consideration when the legislature convenes in January.

        Criminalizing juvenile possession of tobacco was also part of the bill that made it illegal for teens to buy tobacco. But that provision was stripped out of the legislation prior to its passage. The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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