Federal Minimum Age to Buy Tobacco May Rise

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell introduces legislation to raise legal age to 21
Photograph: Shutterstock

WASHINGTON  While the fight to keep the minimum buying age to purchase tobacco products at 18 has been largely a local and state issue, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) took the debate to a national level on April 18, saying he would introduce legislation in May that would raise the age to buy tobacco from 18 to 21 federally, according to his website.

Meanwhile, just a day earlier, Delaware Gov. John Carney signed a law raising the legal age to purchase tobacco to 21, which will take effect after 90 days. That would make Delaware the 11th state to make the change, after Arkansas, California, Hawaii, Maine, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Oregon, Utah, Virginia and Washington.

At a press conference in Kentucky, McConnell said the federal proposal would cover all tobacco products, including vaping, but would have exemptions for people serving in the military.

“For some time, I’ve been hearing from the parents who are seeing an unprecedented spike in vaping among their teenage children, McConnell said. In addition, we all know people who started smoking at a young age and who struggled to quit as adults. Unfortunately, it’s reaching epidemic levels around the country.”

At the press conference, Ben Chandler, president and CEO of the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky, Louisville, Ky., State Sen. Julie Raque Adams and State Rep. Kim Moser joined McConnell. “I was proud to join my former colleague Ben Chandler, who has been a leader on this issue in Kentucky,” McConnell said. “Sen. Adams and Rep. Moser championed the initiative to make all schools in Kentucky tobacco-free, and my legislation will build on their progress to protect the health of our teens nationwide.”

The Delaware law also includes vaping products and would impose fines between $250-$1,000 on retailers who violate the law, according to WPVI-TV in Philadelphia.

Supporters of the “Tobacco 21” movement have received unlikely support, with two major tobacco makers, Altria Group, Richmond, Va., and British American Tobacco, London, both announcing support for the change.

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