Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, will introduce a bill next month to raise the national age of tobacco sales from 18 to 21, primarily to curb the rise in teenage vaping.
“For some time, I’ve been hearing from the parents who are seeing an unprecedented spike in vaping among their teenage children,” McConnell said in a news release. “In addition, we all know people who started smoking at a young age and who struggled to quit as adults. Unfortunately it’s reaching epidemic levels around the country.”
McConnell is following in the footsteps of 12 states and several other local governments that have raised the sale of tobacco products to 21 years old. The legislation will be crafted using the state bills as a guideline, according to the news release. Similar to the state bills, the federal legislation will exempt active military personnel.
Defenders of the bills frequently say that when 18 through 20 year olds have access to tobacco products, they can easily transfer them to their underage friends. Some surveys have shown that the vast majority of smokers begin smoking before the age of 21 and about half begin smoking before the age of 18.
McConnell’s legislation may be part of a larger plan by regulators to clamp down on vaping products. Less than a month ago, the Food and Drug Administration announced a plan to more heavily regulate and even restrict some flavored tobacco products. The regulations would be aimed at products with fruity flavors, which some believe are motivating children to start smoking.
In a press statement earlier this year, former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said that these fruity vaping products are not becoming a less harmful alternative for people who would otherwise be smoking. Rather, he said that these are children who would not have smoked cigarettes, but were pulled in by the fruity flavors.
But some promoters of vaping products say this crusade will do more harm than good, often arguing that these products are providing healthier alternatives to conventional cigarette smoking. They have also argued that consumers should not have their choices restricted.
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