May 21 (UPI) — Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell and Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., introduced a bipartisan bill Monday seeking to raise the national legal age to purchase tobacco.
The bill known as the Tobacco-Free Youth Act would raise the legal age to purchase any tobacco product, including cigarettes, e-cigarettes and vapor products, from 18 to 21. It does not include exceptions for military or other service members.
“Today, we are coming together to side with young people’s health. With this bipartisan legislation, Senator McConnell and I are working to address one of the most significant public health issues facing our nation today,” Kaine said in a statement. “Raising the tobacco age to 21 is a critical part of our efforts to improve public health and keep tobacco products out of schools and away from our children.”
McConnell, of Kentucky, said he would make enacting the law one of his highest priorities, declaring youth vaping a “public health crisis” and citing statistics that 90 percent of adult smokers state they used their first tobacco product before turning 19.
“This is not a zero-sum choice between farmers and public health. We can support both. We need to support both. But the health of our children is at stake,” he said on the Senate floor.
Both Senators serve states with long histories of tobacco production and have previously introduced measures to limit the sale and public use of tobacco. As governor of Virginia, Kaine signed legislation banning smoking in bars, restaurants, state buildings and vehicles, while McConnell noted he backed a tobacco buyback in Kentucky in 2004 and later advocated to allow farmers to grow hemp.
Fourteen states and nearly 500 localities throughout the United States have already raised the minimum legal age to 21 and retailers including Walmart, Sam’s Club and Walgreens have also raised the age for tobacco sales.