Senators consider raising smoking age to 21 nationwide
WASHINGTON, D.C. - If a group of U.S. Senators have it their way, younger Americans will have to be a little bit older to buy a pack of cigarettes.
A bipartisan group of senators, led by Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) are hoping to raise the minimum age to purchase tobacco nationwide from 18-years-old to 21-years-old. That includes cigarettes, e-cigarettes, even vape pens.
“One of the best ways we can stop tobacco use is by increasing the legal smoking age,” Schatz said.
In 2016, Hawaii became the first state in the country to raise the age to 21. Now, a dozen states and more than 450 localities have followed suit.
During a news conference Wednesday, Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), one of two Republican Senators supporting the bill, told reporters he is supporting the sweeping legislation because of a growing new trend.
“Vaping has doubled in young people in my state,” Romney explained. “This is the same trend we’re seeing across the country.”
Lawmakers hope to curb the rise in smoking among younger Americans. A February report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows 4.9 million middle and high school students regularly used some type of tobacco product in 2018, an increase from 3.6 million students in 2017. The surge is driven largely by e-cigarettes, the report said.
“The tobacco companies are targeting our kids with candy-flavored e-cigarettes,” said Deborah Brown, the chief mission officer at the American Lung Association.
E-Cigarettes are the most commonly-used tobacco product among high schoolers, more than two-to-one over traditional cigarettes. The American Heart Association estimates 95 percent of all tobacco users start using before age 21.
“It will boost public health, save taxpayers money, and most importantly, keep our young people from getting hooked,” Schatz said.
Critics, however, have been taking to Schatz’s Facebook page since he first announced the proposal last week. Some constituents are calling the proposal a government overreach; another claims the bill regulates people, not the tobacco companies.