It is very possible that the smoking age across the United States will be raised to 21 very soon. This announcement has pushed the agenda forward.
Last Thursday, Sen. Mitch McConnell announced that he will introduce legislation aimed at raising the national smoking age to 21, from 18.
This bill, which will be introduced next month, will cover all tobacco products including vaping devices.
McConnell, R-Ky., made the announcement in his home state, which is one of the nation’s largest tobacco producers. He noted that Kentucky has some of the highest cancer rates in the country. From 2012-16, lung cancer made up 66 percent of all cancer deaths in the state, according to the American Cancer Society.
Under the legislation, it will remain the responsibility of retailers to verify the age of anyone buying tobacco products just like it is right now with alcohol.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 9 out of 10 cigarette smokers first try smoking cigarettes by 18.
McConnell said vaping devices pose the “most serious threat,” especially to middle school and teenage students, and raising the age to 21 will present fewer opportunities for children to access these devices.
More than 3 million U.S. high school students used e-cigarettes in 2018, up 78 percent from the year before, the CDC found in its annual National Youth Tobacco Society.
Those numbers, however, have been reported to be as high as 5 million when counting middle schools too.
However, the bill will have an exemption for men and women who serve in uniform, according to McConnell who is currently the Senate Majority Leader.
“I hope my legislation will earn strong, bipartisan support in the Senate,” McConnell said. “I’m confident many of my colleagues will agree that protecting our young people from starting tobacco use at an early age can have remarkable, long-term health benefits for Kentucky and the country.”
Tobacco giant Altria, which is the maker of Marlboro and other brands of cigarettes, said it “strongly supports raising the legal age of purchase for all tobacco products.”
“This is the most effective action to reverse rising underage e-vapor usage rates,” the company said in a statement.
Currently, there are eleven states — Arkansas, California, Hawaii, Illinois, New Jersey, Maine, Massachusetts, Oregon, Virginia, Washington, and Utah — that have already enacted laws that set 21 as the minimum age to buy tobacco products.
Three other states — Delaware, Maryland, and New York — are on the verge of enacting similar standards as well, according to the anti-smoking group Tobacco Free Kids.