Monday on the Senate floor, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) announced the introduction of the “Tobacco-Free Youth Act,” which would raise the federal minimum age to buy tobacco from 18 to 21.
McConnell explained that the bill would impose the new age restriction on everything classified as a tobacco product: “Cigarettes, e-cigarettes, vapor products, and everything else.”
“It shouldn’t be 18 any longer; it should be 21,” the majority leader said in his floor speech about the legislation.
During the speech, McConnell explained that a major impetus for the legislation was the popularity of e-cigarettes and vaping devices among teenagers, which he called a “completely new public health epidemic.”
“This spike [in electronic nicotine use] has been concentrated in teenagers, and not just 18-year-olds,” McConnell continued. “Moms and dads across the country have seen their middle and high schoolers take up this new habit and start down a deadly path that our society has previously spent decades working hard to close down.
“The health of our children is literally at stake,” McConnell concluded, adding that the legislation would be one of his “highest priorities.”
McConnell’s full floor speech is available here:
McConnell first floated the idea in April, and despite his earlier plans to exempt military personnel from the proposed age restrictions, the legislation would also make it illegal for men and women in uniform between the ages of 18 and 20 to buy tobacco products.
A 2018 survey of youth tobacco use found a 48 percent increase in e-cigarette use among middle schoolers and a 78 percent increase among high schoolers from 2017 to 2018.
McConnell has teamed up with former Democratic vice presidential candidate and Sen. Tim Kaine (Va.) on the effort. Both senators come from states with long histories of tobacco farming.
“Today, we are coming together to side with young people’s health. With this bipartisan legislation, Senator McConnell and I are working to address one of the most significant public health issues facing our nation today,” Kaine said in a news release. “Raising the tobacco age to 21 is a critical part of our efforts to improve public health and keep tobacco products out of schools and away from our children.”