Congress pushes to raise legal smoking age to 21

WASHINGTON (NEXSTAR) — With the teen vaping epidemic soaring, and after this year’s vaping health crisis, the president and leader Mitch McConnell have become vocal supporters of a plan to raise the legal smoking age to 21.

While health advocates are celebrating, they and some Democrats say much more needs to be done to stop teens from smoking.

Buried inside the 2,000-page spending package that is expected to end up on the president’s desk, is a bipartisan plan to raise the national legal age to purchase tobacco and e-cigarette products from 18 to 21.

“It’s a common sense way to take an important step forward,” Erika Sward with the American Lung Association said.

Sward says the change will stop hundreds of thousands of young people from smoking.

“Tobacco 21 is an important down payment, but much more action is needed,” she said.

The American Lung Association and a coalition of health advocacy groups say congress and the president also need to remove flavored e-cigarette products from the market.

“The writing is on the wall. Flavored products attract kids,” Sward said.

Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Mich, agrees and says unless flavors are gone, the problem won’t fully go away.

“We’ve got kids who are dying,” Dingell said. “Kids are likely to vape when they’re under 21.”

Dingell is pushing a plan to remove all flavored vaping products from the market.

The Trump administration said they’d do the same back in September but recently pulled back.

“Everything in public health is about finding the right balance there,” Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar said.

Azar says the president fears that rushing a ban could create a dangerous black market.

Azar was asked if there is any timeline for the plan.

“No timeline we want to get the right answer,” he said.

At a meeting in November, President Trump and leaders in the vaping industry agreed raising the minimum age was a good idea.

If it passes, the Food and Drug Administration will have six months to update the law.

Health advocates say in addition to a flavor ban, they’d like Congress to also pass bills to make it impossible for teens to purchase tobacco products online, as they see it as a giant loophole to this new law.