Politics & Policy

Congress Raises Tobacco Purchase Age from 18 to 21

Sen. Dick Durbin speaks at a news conference about the Tobacco to 21 Act, which would raise the minimum age to buy tobacco products and e-cigarettes to 21, in Washington, D.C., May 8, 2019. (Aaron P. Bernstein/Reuters)

The Senate voted Thursday to raise the minimum age to buy tobacco products from 18 to 21.

The new law, which takes effect next summer, will ban the sale of all tobacco products including traditional cigarettes and e-cigarettes to people under 21.

The measure was included in the first of two bills that together comprise a $1.4 trillion spending package, which the upper chamber passed in a bipartisan 71 to 23 vote. The Senate will vote on the second bill Thursday afternoon. President Trump is expected to sign the budget deal, which funds the government through fiscal 2020, before the federal government’s funding runs out at midnight on Friday.

Already, 19 U.S. states or territories have raised the minimum smoking age above the old federal minimum of 18 years old. The new law will make the stricter minimum age mandatory nationwide.

The law comes as traditional cigarette smoking has decreased among high-school seniors but the popularity of e-cigarettes has skyrocketed, alarming parents and anti-smoking advocates. The percentage of high school seniors who reported vaping nicotine in the past 30 days nearly doubled during 2017, jumping from 11 percent to just shy of 21 percent.

In November, President Trump said he supported raising the minimum smoking age from 18 to 21. The president also said in September that he was interested in banning all flavored vapes but backed off that proposal last month, saying he was still searching for a compromise between the parents of teenagers, vaping companies, and former smokers who would otherwise resume using traditional cigarettes.

Also spooking anti-smoking advocates and driving the push for raising the minimum smoking age was a wave of mysterious and deadly lung illnesses across the country that appeared to come from vaping products originating somewhere other than the commercial market. The illnesses appeared to be caused by products containing THC, a compound found in marijuana, as well as products that contain Vitamin E acetate, an oil that can be harmful if inhaled.

“It’s an important step forward. It’s a down-payment on comprehensive action,” a spokeswoman for the American Lung Association said of Thursday’s law raising the smoking age. “Congress and the administration need to do more to end the e-cigarette epidemic.”

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