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The Tobacco 21 bill aims to raise the federal minimum age for buying tobacco products from 18 to 21. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) proposed the bill in mid-March of this year. The legislation would also raise the age for buying vaping products.
The bill was proposed in response to the increased used of vape and cigarette products by teenagers. According to a survey from News in Health, “Thirty-seven percent of 12th graders reported vaping in 2018, compared with 28% in 2017.” Currently, 14 states and more than 450 cities have similar laws to Tobacco 21 at the state and local level.
What Does the Tobacco 21 Bill Do?
The primary goal of the bill is to make it illegal for retailers to sell tobacco products to anyone under the age of 21. The bill would also require states to enact laws of their own raising the age to purchase tobacco from 18 to 21. The bill does not anticipate regulations that states will make.
The enactment and enforcement of new tobacco laws are part of an update to the Synar Amendment. The 1992 law was designed to decrease the usage of tobacco products among teenagers. States that do not pass the regulations would be in jeopardy of losing funding from the Department of Health and Human Service’s Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment Block Grant awards in the fiscal year 2021.
The finer details of the bill are not yet established. In April, when McConnell said he would introduce the Tobacco 21 bill, he said there would be an exemption for men and women in the military. Since the introduction of the bill, that exemption has been removed.
Who Supports the Tobacco 21 Bill?
The bill has bipartisan support in Congress. Senator Tim Kaine (D-Va.), who, like McConnell, represents a state with a strong tobacco presence, has also joined the bill. Kaine has supported legislation to ban smoking in restaurants and some flavored nicotine products in the past.
Several public health groups support the bill. Notable names include the American Cancer Society, the American Lung Association, and American Academy of Pediatrics. Tobacco companies Altria and Juul also support the bill, even though it does not promote the agenda of the tobacco industry.
Who Opposes the Tobacco 21 Bill?
The primary opponents are from among the tobacco industry. Tobacco lobbyists argue that raising the age will negatively affect people under the age of 21 who smoke and want low-risk nicotine products. Lobbyists say that the potential ban of flavored nicotine products would hurt the entire industry.
Some anti-smoking groups, such as Tobacco-Free Kids, are wary of the bill too. Tobacco-Free Kids President Matt Myers said, “Our concern is that, whatever the intention, the impact will actually be to derail important tobacco-control measures at the state and local level.” In other words, tobacco lobbyists could then push for amendments to state bills that would prevent tighter restrictions.
The Tobacco 21 bill has widespread support from both sides of the aisle, as well as from tobacco giants. Many health organizations support the bill too. It appears likely that the bill will improve public health through more restrictive federal tobacco laws.
The update to the Synar Amendment is the most contested part of the bill. Some groups are concerned that the update will provide the tobacco industry with a loophole to undermine anti-tobacco legislation on the state level. Senator Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), who is a critic of the bill, has even proposed similar legislation that does not require the states to pass their own tobacco laws.