U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette (D-CO) introduced bipartisan, bicameral legislation on April 30, to raise the nationwide legal smoking age from 18 to 21.
The legislation – known as the Tobacco to 21 Act – would prohibit the sale or distribution of tobacco products to anyone under the age of 21. It would also prohibit retailers from selling tobacco products to anyone under the age of 30 without a valid photo ID
The increased age restrictions would apply to any tobacco product sold in the U.S., including cigars, cigarettes, e-cigarettes, liquid nicotine and other vaping products.
“Congress has a responsibility to enact laws to protect the public’s health,” DeGette said. “And right now, tobacco remains the leading cause of preventable death in our country.”
Approximately 1,300 people die every day in the U.S. from smoking-related diseases. Studies have shown that almost all adult smokers – 94% – started smoking before they reached the age of 21.
Twelve states and the District of Columbia have already passed laws to raise the legal tobacco buying age to 21. According to the National Academy of Medicine, raising the minimum legal age to buy tobacco products to 21 nationwide would reduce the number of new tobacco users and decrease smoking frequency by 12%.
DeGette’s legislation comes on the heels of two other similar bills that were recently unveiled to raise the nation’s smoking age to 21 – one in the House by Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-AL) and one in the Senate by Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY).
However, unlike DeGette’s bill, those two bills have been widely panned by anti-smoking advocates, with one group calling them “trojan horses” backed by the tobacco industry.
In raising concerns about the two measures, the groups point to several industry-backed provisions included in the bills they say would create a special exemption for new tobacco products not yet introduced on the market, and prevent states and local governments from enacting tougher anti-smoking measures, such as banning the sale of kid-friendly flavors of nicotine.
“Unlike other bills drafted by the industry, our bill has no special-interest carve-outs or limitations on state and local governments,” DeGette said. “Unlike other bills, our bill was drafted with one simple goal in mind and that’s to protect public health by keeping tobacco products out of the hands of young people.”
DeGette’s legislation has garnered bipartisan support in both chambers of Congress, and widespread support among some of the nation’s leading anti-smoking organizations.
The bill DeGette introduced in the House is cosponsored by Rep. Chris Stewart (R-UT). An identical version of the bill was also introduced April 30, in the Senate by U.S. Sens. Brian Schatz (D-HI) and Todd Young (R-IN).
The “Tobacco to 21 Act” has the support of the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, American Heart Association, American Lung Association, American Public Health Association, Association of Maternal & Child Health Programs and the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.
In addition to trying to raise the nation’s smoking age to 21, DeGette introduced legislation earlier this year to curb the rising number of teens now using e-cigarettes by banning the sale of flavored nicotine that experts say are one of the leading causes behind the recent spike teens’ use of such products.
That legislation (H.R. 1498), which was introduced March 5, is currently pending before the House Energy and Commerce Committee where DeGette serves as a senior member.
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