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Video: Kaine, Mcconnell Unveil Bipartisan Bill To Raise Minimum Age To Purchase Tobacco To 21

Tobacco state senators join together and lead effort to provide long-term health benefits throughout the country by helping protect young people from starting tobacco use at an early age.

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S.  Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) introduced the bipartisan Tobacco-Free Youth Act, which would raise the nationwide minimum age to buy all tobacco products, including e-cigarettes and vaping devices, from 18 to 21. Kaine delivered a speech on the Senate floor today discussing the legislation.

As Senators from two states with a long history of tobacco production and consumption, Kaine and McConnell have seen the negative effects of youth tobacco use and have heard the compelling public health stories from concerned constituents throughout their states. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), from 2017 to 2018, youth e-cigarette users increased by 1.5 million, with more than 1 in 4 high school students having reported using a tobacco product in the past 30 days. In response, the two Senators introduced the Tobacco-Free Youth Act to help stem the tide of these alarming trends by ensuring that states and the federal government raise the purchasing age for all tobacco products to 21. Their bill makes clear that it would be unlawful for retailers to sell tobacco products to anyone younger than 21 and that states may enact laws with higher minimums if they choose.

“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,” said Kaine. “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.” 

As Governor of Virginia, Kaine signed a bill into law to ban smoking in bars and restaurants in the Commonwealth, as well as an executive order to ban smoking in state buildings and vehicles. In April 2018, Kaine joined two letters to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and JUUL Labs, Inc. raising concerns about youth access and use of flavored e-cigarettes. In the letter to the FDA, Kaine and his colleagues urged the agency to take immediate steps to ban kid-friendly flavorings that are used in e-cigarettes and cigars. In the letter to Juul Labs, Inc., Kaine and his colleagues asked a series of questions about how the product is marketed to children and teens and what ingredients are in the flavorings that accompany these devices. They requested that the company take a series of important steps to limit youth use of their product.

“In recognition of tobacco’s history in our states and aware of the threat that all tobacco products pose now and for future generations, we introduced legislation to raise the national age of purchase to 21,” said McConnell. “We’ve heard from countless parents who have seen the youth vaping crisis firsthand, and together, Senator Kaine and I are addressing this public health crisis head-on. By making it more difficult for tobacco products to end up in the hands of middle school and high school students, we can protect our children and give them the opportunity to grow and develop into healthy adults. We’re ready for a national debate about the health of our children, and I look forward to working with my Senate colleagues on both sides of the aisle to pass this bill.”

report from the Institute of Medicine found that most adult smokers start smoking before age 21 and that increasing the tobacco age to 21 would save lives, improve public health, and reduce tobacco initiation among youth. These young people may not know what chemicals they are putting into their bodies, let alone know the long-term health risks that could negatively impact them as adults.