McConnell, Kaine introduce bipartisan Senate bill to raise the federal smoking age to 21

Health, Fitness & Food

Teenage visitors smoking electronic cigarettes at a vape trade fair. 

Sergei Konkov | TASS | Getty Images

Sens. Mitch McConnell and Tim Kaine plan to introduce a bill Monday that would raise the federal minimum age to buy tobacco to 21 in hopes of curbing what regulators are calling an “epidemic” of teen vaping.

Both McConnell, R-Ky., the Senate majority leader, and Kaine, D-Va., hail from tobacco-producing states. A bipartisan group of lawmakers last month introduced similar legislation, which has won backing from public health groups such as the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, the American Heart Association and the American Lung Association.

Fourteen states and hundreds of local governments have already raised the age. Cigarette and vaping giants Altria, British American Tobacco and Juul are actively supporting these efforts.

Ninety percent of cigarette smokers try their first cigarette before they turn 18, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. High school seniors who can legally buy tobacco products may share them with their friends, an issue that’s come into focus amid a huge surge in teen vaping.

In 2018, the number of high school students who said they currently used tobacco products increased by about 38%, the CDC found in its annual National Youth Tobacco Survey. The agency blamed the increase on e-cigarettes. The number of high school students in the survey who said they had vaped in the last 30 days surged by almost 78% from 2017 to 2018, prompting the FDA to declare teen vaping an “epidemic.”

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