Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell introduced Monday legislation aimed at fighting the negative health effects of smoking among younger generations by raising the age for buying tobacco and e-cigarettes to 21.
“Youth vaping is a public health crisis. It’s our responsibility as parents and public servants to do everything we can to keep these harmful products out of high schools and out of youth culture,” said McConnell.
The so-called Tobacco-Free Youth Act, co-sponsored by Democratic Senator Tim Kaine, will most likely come up for a vote on the chamber’s floor, as a result of the majority leader’s influence. Kaine likewise expressed concern about tobacco addiction among young people, stressing that more needs to be done to combat it.
“We’re backsliding. Recent increases in youth tobacco use demonstrate we need to do more,” said the Democratic senator, who a decade ago signed a law banning tobacco use in restaurants and bars.
McConnell and Kaine cited figures released by the Centers for Disease Control that demonstrate a clear increase in teen vaping since e-cigarettes were invented.
“Kentucky farmers don’t want their children to get hooked on tobacco products while they are in middle school or high school any more than any parent anywhere wants that to happen,” said the Kentucky senator.
“Kentucky is proud of what we make but we also want pride in the health and development of our children and the sad reality is that Kentucky’s been home to the highest rates of cancer in our country,” McConnell continued.
Another bill aimed at raising the tobacco-buying age to 21 was introduced earlier this year by a bipartisan group of four senators, whom Kaine vowed to work with.
Altria, the parent company for Phillip Morris USA, has also pledged to support the two bills. The head of Tobacco Free Kids, an anti-tobacco advocacy group, said in a statement that they support the bill from the four senators because it is “a strong bill with effective enforcement and penalties on retailers that sell tobacco products to minors and without special interest provisions that benefit the tobacco industry.”
They are still reviewing the McConnell/Kaine bill to see if it meets their criteria, the group said.