Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he’s proposing legislation that would raise the minimum age to buy tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, to 21 nationwide, saying that 'now is the right time to do this.'
“It shouldn’t be 18 any longer, it should be 21 and this legislation will make that happen,' McConnell said in a Senate floor speech.
McConnell announced last month in his home state of Kentucky that he was drafting the federal measure, which is aimed at stemming the growing popularity of vaping products among young people.
Altria Group Inc., the maker of Marlboro cigarettes, fell 0.4 percent at 3:35 p.m. in New York after rising as much as 1.4 percent earlier in the day.
About 4.9 million middle and high school children used some type of tobacco product in 2018, according to an annual study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That was up from 3.6 million in 2017, erasing previous gains in curbing youth use of tobacco products. The gain was explained entirely by a rise in e-cigarette use, the CDC said. Studies have shown that vaping can affect brain development and lead to higher rates of addiction to other drugs.
McConnell’s legislation would cover all tobacco products, including e-cigarettes. It would require retailers, like under the current system, to verify that a tobacco purchaser is old enough to buy the product. While most states set 18 as the minimum age of purchase, 14 states and a number of cities, including New York City, have enacted laws raising the age to 21, according to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.
McConnell said he 'might seem like an unusual candidate' to seek to raise the tobacco purchase age, given that tobacco once was Kentucky’s leading crop. But he added that Kentucky has also been home to the nation's highest cancer rates.
‘Public Health Crisis’
'Kentucky farmers don’t want their children to get hooked on tobacco products' any more than parents elsewhere in the U.S., McConnell said. 'Youth vaping is a public health crisis.'
McConnell’s legislation -- backed by Democratic Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia, another tobacco-producing state -- is similar to a bipartisan bill introduced earlier in the Senate.
The earlier measure’s sponsors include Senate Democrats Brian Schatz of Hawaii and Dick Durbin of Illinois, and Republicans Todd Young of Indiana and Mitt Romney of Utah. Some conservative Republicans may oppose it, including GOP Senator Richard Burr of North Carolina, who earlier this year torched the Food and Drug Administration over a plan to ban menthol cigarettes.
In the House, Colorado Democrat Diana Degette introduced a companion bill that also has bipartisan backing.
Altria officials have supported efforts to raise the legal age of purchase to 21 for all tobacco products. Altria has a $12.8 billion stake in Juul Labs Inc., which makes the vape device most popular with teens. Juul requires people who buy products on its website to be 21.
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