Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) recently announced that he, along with Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA), have filed a new, bipartisan bill in Congress to raise the nationwide legal age to purchase tobacco and vaping products from 18 to 21. The bill, currently titled the “Tobacco-Free Youth Act,” would require all states to pass laws raising the minimum age to purchase cigarettes, electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS) and other tobacco products to 21. The bill would compel each state to pass individual laws or risk losing substance abuse prevention and treatment funding.
The current federal minimum age is 18. Recent tobacco control measures have concentrated on raising the minimum age for youth to legally purchase tobacco products to 21, and hundreds of municipalities and more than a dozen states have already adopted so-called “Tobacco 21” laws across the country.
Significantly, the current version of the bill does not contain an exemption for members of the military, despite initial considerations for a military carve-out.
The current draft of the bill states that the term “tobacco product” has the meaning given in section 201(rr) of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (i.e., any product made or derived from tobacco that is intended for human consumption, including any component, part, or accessory of a tobacco product — and excluding drugs, devices, and combination products as described under the FD&C Act). Thus, the law would apply to all tobacco products, including deemed products. The bill includes a non-preemption provision that permits states and local governments to adopt more stringent minimum age requirements.
Time will tell how far the Tobacco-Free Youth Act proceeds in the legislative process as this is not the first time a Tobacco 21 bill was introduced at the federal level (one was introduced in 2015). It is likely, however, that the backing of the Senate GOP leader may have a significant impact.