CNN – President Donald Trump on Dec. 20 signed a sweeping spending bill into law, including a measure that the legal age to buy cigarettes and other tobacco products was raised from 18 to 21.
The increased age restriction for tobacco purchases is one of several provisions outside of the spending measures themselves that will be attached to the broader $1.4 trillion spending agreement.
The legislation was originally introduced by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), before being combined with another bill to become part of the spending package.
The restriction on tobacco sales has long been pushed by a bipartisan mix of senators: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican; Republican Sens. Mitt Romney of Utah and Todd Young of Indiana; as well as Democrats including Sens. Richard Durbin of Illinois, Tim Kaine of Virginia and Brian Schatz of Hawaii.
Those lawmakers have been looking for a way to get the prohibition across the finish line and now they’ve found one, by attaching it to a must-pass series of bills to avoid a government shutdown.
“This is a big win for public health,” said Senator Brian Schatz, Democrat of Hawaii, who had proposed the higher national age limit after it was implemented by his state. “Raising the minimum smoking and vaping age to 21 will protect our kids and save lives.”
Trump took to Twitter to announce that he was going to sign the bill, singling out the tobacco issue alongside paid parental leave, the establishment of a Space Force, and funding for the southern border wall.
Dr. Stephen Hahn, the commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, praised the move, writing in a statement: “This is a major step in protecting the next generation of children from becoming addicted to tobacco products. Tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, should never be marketed to, sold to, or used by kids.”
The legislation makes it illegal for a retailer to sell any tobacco products to anyone under 21.
A number of states and localities have already raised the legal age limit.
Raising the legal age to purchase tobacco products in the United States from 18 to 21 marks a major public health achievement for the White House. There already have been several states that have individually passed legislation to raise the tobacco buying age to 21.
As of December, 19 states have raised the minimum age to buy tobacco products to 21, according to the nonprofit Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids: Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, and Washington.
Washington, DC, and more than 500 cities and towns also have raised the age.
After a slew of lung diseases linked to vaping cropped up earlier this year, Trump has previously spoken in favor of raising the age limit to buy tobacco products, including e-cigarettes and vape products, to 21.
“We have to take care of our kids, most importantly, so we’re going to have an age limit of 21 or so, so we’ll be coming out with something next week very important on vaping,” Trump told reporters in Washington in November.
This is a major step in protecting the next generation of children from becoming addicted to tobacco products. Tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, should never be marketed to, sold to, or used by kids.Dr. Stephen M. Hahn
In September, the Trump administration had announced a plan to ban flavored vaping products across the US. According to sources familiar with the plan, an announcement was to be made early November, and the ban was meant to apply to all flavors with the exception of tobacco and menthol flavors.
Health organizations have pressured the administration to ban flavors, which are popular among young people. Vaping advocates have argued they’re a tool for adult smokers to quit combustible cigarettes. Vape shop owners have argued that limits on sales of flavors would destroy their businesses.
The announcement came amid continued concerns about rising levels of youth vaping and a mysterious outbreak of vaping-related lung injuries.
According to another survey, Vaping is popular with youth, with nearly 10 percent of eighth-graders, 20 percent of 10th graders, and 25 percent of high school seniors saying they’ve vaped nicotine in the past month, according to a federal survey. And 31 percent of high school students use a tobacco product, as well as 12.5 percent of middle school students.
The age limit increase garnered support from many in the Advocates.
“We applaud congressional efforts to prohibit the sale of tobacco products to anyone under 21 and urge the president to sign this bill. The Vapor Technology Association has advocated for raising the age to 21 for all tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, and believes, along with the public health groups, that this is the most significant step that can be taken to reduce youth access and use.”
“VTA stands ready to continue working with Congress on the many real solutions (rather than a misguided flavor ban agenda), that should be implemented to achieve the twin goals of restricting youth vaping and preserving flavored vapor as an alternative for adults desperately trying to quit smoking.”Tony Abboud, executive director of the Vapor Technology Association, said in a statement emailed to CNN on Dec. 20.
Others criticized the move while still others said that it wasn’t enough. Many health and parent organizations have called on the President to do more than raise the legal tobacco-buying age.
On Monday, Matthew Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, said in a written statement that raising the federal tobacco age to 21 without also prohibiting flavored e-cigarettes will not stop the youth e-cigarette epidemic.
“Raising the tobacco age to 21 is a positive step, but it is not a substitute for prohibiting the flavored e-cigarettes that are luring and addicting our kids,” Myers said in part.”To reverse the e-cigarette epidemic, policymakers must prohibit flavored e-cigarettes and cannot be limited by what the tobacco industry says is acceptable.”
“The evidence is clear that flavored e-cigarettes are driving the youth epidemic. Most youth e-cigarette users use flavored products and cite flavors as a key reason for their use. As long as flavored e-cigarettes remain available, kids will find ways to get them and this epidemic will continue.”Matthew Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids .