U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) announced plans at a press conference Thursday to introduce legislation in the U.S. Senate to raise the nationwide minimum age to buy tobacco products from 18 to 21. The McConnell bill, which will be introduced in May, will cover all tobacco products, including vaping devices.
Senator McConnell was joined at the press conference by President/CEO of the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky Ben Chandler, State Senator Julie Raque Adams, and State Representative Kim Moser.
“I was proud to join my former colleague Ben Chandler who has been a leader on this issue in Kentucky. Senator Adams and Representative Moser championed the initiative to make all schools in Kentucky tobacco free, and my legislation will build on their progress to protect the health of our teens nationwide,” McConnell said.
“For some time, I’ve been hearing from the parents who are seeing an unprecedented spike in vaping among their teenage children. In addition, we all know people who started smoking at a young age and who struggled to quit as adults. Unfortunately it’s reaching epidemic levels around the country,” McConnell said. “My legislation will be similar to the current system, where retailers have the responsibility to verify the age of anyone buying tobacco products – we’ll just raise the age from 18 to 21. Twelve states have enacted laws to raise the purchasing age of tobacco products to 21. These bills will serve as helpful guidance as I craft my federal legislation. For example, my bill will include an exemption for men and women who serve in uniform, similar to state T21 laws.”
Ben Chandler, President/CEO of The Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky, said immediate action is needed.
“There’s no time to waste in addressing the surge in youth vaping that’s inundating schools throughout Kentucky and the nation with a nicotine-packed product that threatens to damage our children’s brains and addict them to tobacco for the rest of their lives. Raising the legal age for sales of all tobacco products from 18 to 21 is key to stemming the youth vaping epidemic,” Chandler said. “The Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky thanks Senator McConnell for his leadership on this issue and stands ready to help in every way we can to ensure its passage. This is for the health of our kids.”
Kentucky has some of the highest cancer rates in the country. The Commonwealth unfortunately leads the nation with 34% of cancers tied directly to smoking.
When teens vape, they could be taking the first steps toward serious health problems throughout their lives. Alarmingly 45% of Kentucky high school students report having tried vaping. About 95% of adult smokers began using tobacco products before they turned 21.
Studies have shown that the brain is still developing throughout teenage years, and nicotine use on a young brain can stunt growth and make it harder to focus, learn or control impulses. Nicotine use also can increase the risk of addiction to other drugs.
A recent survey showed about two-thirds of high school seniors – an overwhelming majority – did not know their vaping product contained nicotine. These young people may not know what chemicals they are putting into their bodies the moment they inhale, let alone know the long-term health risks that could negatively impact them as adults.
“To me, the most serious threat involves the use of vaping devices for teens under 18 years old. Far too often, 18 year olds who are still in high school and can legally buy vaping devices are sharing them with their younger classmates,” McConnell noted.
“And the problem isn’t only high schoolers. In 2018, there was a nearly 50% increase of middle school students vaping throughout the country. Raising the age limit to 21 presents fewer opportunities for children to get their hands on vaping devices. I hope my legislation will earn strong, bipartisan support in the Senate. I’m confident many of my colleagues will agree that protecting our young people from starting tobacco use at an early age can have remarkable, long-term health benefits for Kentucky and the country.”
Adams noted that as Senate Majority Leader, McConnell continues to use his leadership position in Washington to help Kentucky.
“Too often, families in our Commonwealth face the tragedy of cancer and substance abuse, but Senator McConnell’s legislation will promote healthy lifestyles among our kids. Without the harmful chemicals from vaping devices, our children can develop into successful and healthy adults who make us all proud,” Adams said.
“As a nurse and mother, I’ve seen firsthand the widespread use of vaping devices in Kentucky schools and the harm they cause to our teenagers,” Moser added. “My legislation to ban tobacco products from all Kentucky schools was an important accomplishment, and I am so thankful that Senator McConnell is taking the next step to protect young people in Kentucky and across the country. His plan to raise the minimum age to purchase these products nationwide will help our children learn and grow without the long-term damage of nicotine.”