Congress poised for votes to raise legal smoking age to 21

With the support of leaders in both parties, Congress is moving to approve a batch of year-end budget bills which contain a provision that will raise the minimum legal age to buy tobacco products from 18 to 21 years, a landmark legislative change which will include e-cigarettes and all vaping products.

"It shall be unlawful for any retailer to sell a tobacco product to any person younger than 21 years of age," the bill states on page 1493, as the tobacco provision was stuffed into a broader package of year end funding measures for the federal government.

“This legislation will have an enormous positive impact on public health in our country — and it’s needed now more than ever as we grapple with the youth e-cigarette epidemic," said Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA).

"I look forward to its passage and the President's signature," said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), as two tobacco state Senators from opposite parties championed the plan.

"Raising the tobacco age will help protect kids and prevent future smokers," argued Sen. Todd Young (R-IN).

"I am proud that this agreement takes strong action to advance the health and well-being of America’s children, including by raising the tobacco age to 21," said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

19 states and the District of Columbia already limit tobacco sales to age 21 - just like alcohol - this measure would extend that nationwide.

The agreement on the new purchase age for tobacco came as a new study was released showing those who have used e-cigarettes were 30 percent more likely to get a chronic lung disease.

The tobacco plan was part of an over 1,700 page bill stuffed with eight funding bills for the federal government - and a number of legislative extras, which drew scorn from a handful of GOP lawmakers.

"Can anyone defend stuffing this in the omnibus spending bill?" said Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY) of the tobacco provision. "This should be a separate piece of legislation."

A House vote on the Tobacco 21 provision was expected on Tuesday; final approval is likely later this week in the Senate.

About the Author