U.S. Senate considers raising federal tobacco use age to 21


Several states, including Virginia, have already raised the minimum age to 21

WINCHESTER, Va. (WDVM) — Virginia’s new tobacco age restriction went into effect, upping the age to buy tobacco and vaping products from 18 to 21. A similar bill could become law nationally, with bi-partisan support.

In May, U.S. Senators Tim Kaine of Virginia and Mitch McConnell of Kentucky have cosponsored the Tobacco Free Youth Act, which would raise the age to purchase tobacco products to 21 years old across the country.

Kaine describes the bill as one he and Senate Majority Leader McConnell “worked on very carefully” to “raise the age from 18 to 21 on all tobacco products for all populations at the federal level, to not pre-empt states abilities to do even more regulation if they want, and to provide a strong incentive for states to also raise their ages to 21 and enforce that 21 provision.”

He says while he and McConnell both come from states that have historically been major players in the tobacco industry, they understand the importance of passing legislation to address the public health issue of youth smoking.

“As Governor I signed an executive order to ban smoking in public buildings. I then worked three years with legislative colleagues to ban smoking in restaurants and bars and this is a next step, a very very important one,” Kaine said. “Given that 95 percent of adult smokers begin before age 21 and we’ve seen a massive increase in youth smoking because of e-cigarettes we think this important public health measure, moving from 18 to 21 is a good step.”

Some in the industry think the change in the age federally is a good idea.

Elizabeth Aquino-Perez, the manager of The Smoke Shop in Stephens City, Virginia, supports the bill, although she acknowledges the age change in Virginia may impact sales temporarily.

“It might hurt business a little bit,” she said. “But like I say, tobacco? Yes. Nicotine? We’ll always be in business no matter what. 

She adds she knows first hand how hard it can be to quit smoking. Aquino-Perez began smoking at age 14 and says she was quickly addicted to cigarettes. She believes its better if teenagers don’t start smoking until they’re older.

However, she says there’s always the argument of the military in the mix.

Under Virginia’s new code, active service members in Virginia can still purchase tobacco and vape products, even if they’re between the ages of 18 and 20. But under the Tobacco Free Youth Act, those exceptions wouldn’t exist.

Alex Douglas, the manager of Complete Vapor in Winchester, voiced concerns over the lack of exemptions as well.

“If you can fight for our country and you can do everything that they do over there, I don’t see a problem with smoking. Or vaping at that,” he said.

Douglas adds that much of his clientele are between the ages of 19 and 20, and he’s already fielded calls from customers asking him to explain the complexities of the new law.

He himself had to call his own boss when Virginia’s code was passed because he was only 20 years old at the time. He feared he’d lose his job, and he says he worries if President Trump were to sign the Tobacco Free Youth Act into law, other young people may lose work as well.

However, Kaine is confident the bill will get passed.

“Because Senator McConnell is very committed to getting this passed and because he’s the Majority Leader with a lot of sway on what bills come up I think we’ve got a great chance at getting this bill out of the Senate and onto the President’s desk.” 

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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