WASHINGTON— After announcing his intentions a few weeks ago, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) along with Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) introduced a bipartisan bill called the “Tobacco-Free Youth Act,” which would raise the nationwide minimum age to buy all tobacco products—including electronic cigarettes and vaping devices—from 18 to 21, the senators announced on their websites.
Despite coming from states with long histories of tobacco growing and consumption, the two senators united on health concerns, saying in a press release issued May 20 that they “have seen the negative effects of youth tobacco use and have heard compelling public health stories from concerned constituents throughout their states.”
The measure follows similar bipartisan moves in Congress in April, when legislators from both the House and the Senate introduced bills to raise the minimum age to purchase tobacco.
Citing a recent increase in young people using e-cigarettes, McConnell said the measure will address the “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,” he said. “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.”
“Today, we are coming together to side with young people’s health,” Kaine said. “With this bipartisan legislation, Sen. McConnell and I are working to address one of the most significant public health issues facing our nation today.”
Fourteen states have increased the tobacco purchasing age, the most recent being Maryland. The other 13 states are Arkansas, California, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Oregon, Utah, Vermont, Virginia and Washington.
Three major retailers—Walmart, Walgreens and Rite Aid—also recently announced they would raise the minimum age to purchase tobacco products to 21 at their stores.