Anti-smoking advocates question industry motives for backing higher purchasing age

Public health and anti-tobacco advocates are no longer facing fierce opposition from the tobacco industry in their push to raise the legal purchasing age from 18 to 21.

The reversal, prompted in large part by rising youth vaping rates, means tobacco companies such as Altria are now on the front line pushing “Tobacco 21” legislation in state legislatures and on Capitol Hill in an effort to stave off stronger regulations that could have disastrous effects on the industry, including bans on the sale of flavored tobacco products that are appealing to kids.

“I think that’s what they fear more than anything else  Juul and Altria — is that, because of this horrible epidemic in our country, that legislators will restrict the use of flavors,” said Dr. Rob Crane, president of the Preventing Tobacco Addiction Foundation, which founded the Tobacco 21 movement.

He dismissed the recent move by the tobacco industry, saying, “This is, of course, a PR move.”

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says flavored e-cigarettes are directed at kids, and the agency has threatened to pull the devices off the market entirely if youth smoking rates don’t drop this year. More than 3.5 million teenagers said they used e-cigarettes in 2018.

Adding to the pressure is the fact that manufacturers of e-cigarettes also must seek FDA approval by 2021 to continue selling their products on the market and must prove their products benefit public health. Tobacco companies have argued that the products can help adults quit smoking cigarettes, but the FDA contends that shouldn’t come at the expense of another generation becoming addicted to nicotine.


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