Senate Panel Approves Bipartisan Bill to Raise Federal Smoking Age to 21

WASHINGTON (The Washington Post) -
(Photo Illustration by Bruno Vincent/Getty Images)

A Senate panel approved a bipartisan bill Wednesday that would raise the country’s smoking age to 21 from 18, a step the measure’s sponsors hailed as progress toward combating the rise in youth vaping.

The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee approved the Tobacco-Free Youth Act, which was co-sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.).

“I’m grateful to my colleagues for advancing our legislation to help curb the spike of youth tobacco use,” McConnell said in a statement. “Because children are extremely vulnerable to becoming addicted to nicotine and suffering its lifelong consequences, we must do everything we can to keep these products out of their hands.”

It remains unclear when the measure will be brought to the Senate floor.

The measure would make it illegal to sell a tobacco product to any person under 21 years old in all states. It would include military personnel, a category that is exempted in some states that have raised the legal age.

Fourteen states and the District of Columbia have raised the tobacco sale age to 21, according to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.

Under the legislation, states that do not comply risk losing federal substance-abuse block grant funding, and a retailer that sells tobacco to anyone under 21 would be in violation of federal law.

The Food and Drug Administration this year issued a policy designed to fight what the agency’s director has called “an epidemic” of teen vaping by restricting how and where flavored e-cigarettes are sold.