US

Congress Likely to Raise the Tobacco Age to 21

By Victor Westerkamp

A bill that would raise the minimum age for purchasing tobacco products from 18 to 21 is highly likely to pass Congress, congressional staffers said on Monday.

The legislation, which would include cigarettes and e-cigarretes, will likely be rolled into a year-end congressional spending bill, reported Politico.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) introduced the measure earlier this year and it has received bipartisan support, reported the Washington Post.

Senators supporting the legislation, called “Tobacco 21,” include Sens. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), National Republican Senatorial Committee chairman Todd Young (R-Ind.), and Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), reported Politico.

Cigarette packs on display
Cigarette packs are on display for sale in a shop in New York City on April 1, 2009. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

Nineteen states, plus Washington D.C., have already raised the tobacco age to 21, including Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, and Washington, according to the nonprofit Tobacco FreeKids, And at least 530 localities, some of which are in states that have enacted statewide laws, have banned the sale of tobacco products to those under 21.

The crackdown on youth smoking would give the Food and Drug Administration six months to develop regulations. The agency would then have three years to work with states on implementing the change.

Republican and Democratic lawmakers hope to pass the $1.4 trillion spending bill before current government funding runs out on Saturday, to avoid a partial government shutdown and head off the kind of messy budget battle that resulted in a record 35-day interruption of government services late last year and early this year.

The largest expenditures in the bill is for the Department of Defense, which would get a total of $738 billion for this year, $22 billion more than last year. It does not include “mandatory” programs, such as Social Security and Medicare, which are funded separately.

The legislation includes $425 million in additional federal grants to help local governments prepare for the November 2020 presidential and congressional elections.

The bill also allocates $7.6 billion for conducting next year’s census, which is done once every 10 years, $25 million for federal gun violence research, and $1.37 billion would fund a barrier along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Reuters contributed to this report.