A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Senators McConnell, Kaine secure legislation to increase age to purchase tobacco products to 21

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has announced that he successfully secured the Tobacco-Free Youth Act in the Fiscal Year 2020 government agreement. The legislation, which he introduced earlier this year with Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA), would raise the nationwide minimum age to buy all tobacco products, including e-cigarettes and vaping devices, from 18 to 21 and help protect young people from the dangers of nicotine.

Before the end of the year, both the House of Representatives and Senate are expected to approve the government-funding bills, sending them to President Trump for his signature.

McConnell and Kaine come from states with a history of tobacco production and consumption and have seen the negative effects of youth tobacco use.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 2019, over 6 million U.S. middle and high school students were current users of tobacco products with 1 in 3 high school students and 1 in 8 middle school students reporting using some type of 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 making it unlawful for retailers to sell tobacco products to anyone younger than 21. A report from the Institute of Medicine found that most adult smokers start smoking before age 21 and that increasing the tobacco age to 21 could save lives, improve public health, and reduce tobacco initiation among youth. Young tobacco users may not know what chemicals they are putting into their bodies, let alone the long-term health risks that could negatively impact them as adults.

“Since I introduced my legislation earlier this year to raise the minimum nationwide purchase age for tobacco products from 18 to 21, stories of vaping related illnesses and deaths — especially among young people — have stunned Kentucky and the nation,” said Senator McConnell.

“The Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky is proud to have the leadership of Senator McConnell in protecting our children’s health and future, and I was proud to work with him to raise the legal age for sales of all tobacco products from 18 to 21,” said Ben Chandler, President/CEO of the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky. “Across our Commonwealth, we’ve seen an unprecedented spike in youth vaping and tobacco use, which can too often lead to a lifetime of nicotine dependence and serious health consequences. By helping keep these products away from middle and high school students, we’re making progress to support the health of our kids. I’m glad Senator McConnell, as Majority Leader, could build support for this vital legislation, and because of his efforts, I look forward to it becoming law soon.”

“I’m thrilled that our bill to raise the tobacco age from 18 to 21 will get a vote in the House and Senate this week. This legislation will have an enormous positive impact on public health in America, and it’s needed now more than ever as we grapple with the youth e-cigarette epidemic. It’s estimated that raising the tobacco age to 21 would reduce the number of premature deaths by 223,000 and significantly reduce lung cancer deaths and other health problems,” said Senator Kaine.

Regretfully, Kentucky has some of the highest cancer rates in the country.

The Commonwealth leads the nation with 34% of cancer cases tied directly to smoking. When teens vape, they could be taking the first steps toward serious health problems throughout their lives. Alarmingly 45% of Kentucky high school students report having tried vaping. About 95% of adult smokers began using tobacco products before they turned 21. Studies have shown that the brain is still developing throughout the teenage years, and nicotine use on a young brain can stunt growth and make it harder to focus, learn, or control impulses.

Nicotine use also can increase the risk of addiction to other drugs.

From Senator Mitch McConnell’s office

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