WASHINGTON, D.C. - On Wednesday, WENY News first reported on a group of U.S. Senators are pushing to raise the purchasing age for tobacco from 18 to 21. But it’s already a reality in many parts of the Southern Tier and Western New York.

On Thursday, Congressman Tom Reed tells WENY he is open to raising the age to 21. But, currently, he also believes in giving local governments the right to do make such changes before the federal government imposes a nationwide law.

The conversation really picked up Wednesday on Capitol Hill after a bipartisan group of senators introduced what’s “Tobacco to 21,” a bill that would raise the federal minimum age from 18 to 21-years-old for anyone buying cigarettes, e-cigarettes and vape products. They argue the plan would save lives, and cut down on the number of teenagers and young adults getting hooked on tobacco. However, critics argue this is a government overreach, that the plan punishes people and not the tobacco companies.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found the rising popularity of e-cigarettes and the kid-friendly flavors of vape products are leading to earlier tobacco use.

Locally, Chautauqua, Cattaraugus and Tompkins counties in New York already have laws requiring tobacco customers to be at least 21 years old, according to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.

The age increase is not something Reed is actively looking to change, but he would consider supporting it.

“I’m not opposed to raising the tobacco age to 21. It seems like it’s gaining momentum across the country,” Reed said. “I think having the state and local government have the ability to do this is appropriate.”

Twelve states and 450 localities in the United States have passed laws to increase the minimum purchasing age for tobacco from 18 to 21.

The bill also has support from one of the leading e-cigarette manufacturers, JUUL Labs.

“We commend these bipartisan lawmakers for introducing this Tobacco 21 legislation, as we strongly support raising the purchasing age for all tobacco products, including vapor products, to 21 and have been actively supporting legislation to do this at the federal level and in states across the country,” said JUUL Chief Executive Officer Kevin Burns. “JUUL Labs is committed to eliminating combustible cigarettes, the number one cause of preventable death in the world. 

“To accomplish that goal, we must restrict youth usage of vapor products. Tobacco 21 laws fight one of the largest contributors to this problem – sharing by legal-age peers – and they have been shown to dramatically reduce youth usage rates. That is why we will continue to work with lawmakers across the country to enact these effective policies.”