Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced Monday he’s backing legislation to raise the national age of tobacco use to 21 years of age, putting major legislative heft behind a growing bipartisan push.
His plan would apply to all tobacco-linked products, including cigarettes and vaping devices.
Mr. McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, acknowledged it might seem odd for a senator from his state to be backing the push, but he said he’s come to think something needs to change.
“It shouldn’t be 18 any longer. It should be 21,” he said.
Mr. McConnell said he’s well aware of Kentucky’s history with tobacco growing, saying at one point 2 out of every 3 farmers in his state grew the crop.
But he said the state’s farmers are shifting, tobacco is no longer critical and industrial hemp is now the hot new crop.
Mr. McConnell also said growing awareness of health problems from tobacco is creating a chance for Congress to make changes and confront e-cigarettes, whose use among teens has been soaring.
“Youth vaping is a public health crisis,” the senator in announcing his new stance on the Senate floor. “The health of our children is literally at stake.”
Mr. McConnell was joined in his push by Sen. Tim Kaine, a Democrat from Virginia, another state whose economy was at one time tied to tobacco growing.
Fourteen states already have set 21 as the minimum age for purchasing tobacco products, according to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.
The new bill by Mr. McConnell and Mr. Kaine piggybacks on legislation introduced last month by a bipartisan group of senators that would raise the national age for tobacco use to 21.
“We strongly urge our colleagues on both sides of the aisle to pass a clean tobacco age increase as quickly as possible,” said Sens. Todd Young and Mitt Romney, the GOP sponsors of that earlier legislation.
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