McConnell, Kaine want to raise minimum smoking age to 21 |

McConnell, Kaine want to raise minimum smoking age to 21

The Washington Post
A high school student uses a vaping device near a school campus in Cambridge, Mass.

WASHINGTON — Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., on Monday planned to introduce a bill that would raise the federal minimum age to purchase tobacco from 18 to 21, a measure that they say is aimed at reducing teen use of e-cigarettes.

The move, from senators from two tobacco-producing states, reflects growing concern that the spike in popularity of e-cigarettes among teenagers threatens to reverse what had been decades of declining youth smoking rates.

“Today, we are coming together to side with young people’s health,” Kaine said in a statement. “With this bipartisan legislation, Senator McConnell and I are working to address one of the most significant public health issues facing our nation today.”

Altria, the parent company of Philip Morris USA and minority stakeholder in e-cigarette maker Juul Labs, is based in Virginia.

McConnell said smoking should be part of a national debate about children’s health.

“We’ve heard from countless parents who have seen the youth vaping crisis firsthand,” McConnell said in a statement. “…Together, Senator Kaine and I are addressing this public health crisis head-on. By making it more difficult for tobacco products to end up in the hands of middle school and high school students, we can protect our children and give them the opportunity to grow and develop into healthy adults.”

Kentucky and West Virginia have the highest rates of deaths caused by smoking, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

The backing of McConnell means the bill, known as the Tobacco-Free Youth Act, is likely to get a vote on the floor, after vetting by the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee, of which Kaine is a member.

Fourteen states and the District of Columbia have already raised the tobacco sale age to 21, including Virginia and Maryland, which are poised to enact their laws later this year, according to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.

The federal law, called the Tobacco-Free Youth Act, would make it illegal to sell a tobacco product to any person under 21 years old in all states.

The Food and Drug Administration this year issued a policy designed to combat what the agency’s director has called “an epidemic” of teen vaping by restricting how and where flavored e-cigarettes are sold.

The CDC reports the number of middle and high school students using e-cigarettes rose from 2.1 million in 2017 to 3.6 million in 2018 — a difference of about 1.5 million young people. About 20 percent of high school students said last year they used electronic cigarettes in the past month, compared to 1.5 percent in 2011.

As Virginia’s governor, Kaine signed into law a bill that banned smoking in bars and restaurants in 2009, and signed an executive order to ban smoking in state buildings and vehicles.

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