Mitch McConnell Pushes To Raise Minimum Smoking Age To 21

By Bryan Le 04/22/19

The Kentucky senator seeks to reduce smoking among America’s youth by barring all tobacco products, including vapes, until age 21.

Republican Senator Mitch McConnell greets people at fundraiser in Elizabethtown, Kentucky, on June 30, 2017.
The Kentucky Senator wants to curb tobacco use among teens. Joe Tabb |

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is proposing a bill that would raise the smoking age from 18 to 21. His proposal, to be introduced in May, will affect all tobacco products, including the now immensely popular vapes.

McConnell’s home state of Kentucky is home to both a thriving tobacco industry as well as some of the highest rates of cancer in the United States. By the count of the American Cancer Society, lung cancer was responsible for about 66% of cancer deaths in Kentucky between 2012 and 2016.

McConnell’s plan would hold retailers responsible for ensuring that all tobacco-purchasing customers are of age.

The senator believes vaping is “the most serious threat” and hopes that raising the buying age will prevent more of these devices from being passed down to middle- and high-schoolers from their slightly older counterparts.

Preventing teens from getting hooked early is important as almost 9 out of 10 cigarette smokers tried it before they become 18 years old, according to the CDC. Vapes seem to have exacerbated the problem, considering over 3 million high-schoolers used e-cigarettes in 2018—a 78% increase from 2017.

“I hope my legislation will earn strong, bipartisan support in the Senate,” said McConnell. “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.”

The bill will exclude those who serve in uniform.

Altria, the producers of Marlboro, say they “strongly supports raising the legal age of purchase for all tobacco products.”

McConnell’s idea isn’t novel. Twelve states have already moved to raise the smoking age to 21. According to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, Maryland and New York are also set to enact similar laws.

But according to one Hawaiian lawmaker, raising the age to 21 just isn’t good enough. State Representative Richard Creagan wants to eventually make it illegal for anyone under the age of 100 to get tobacco products.

“We don’t allow people free access to opioids, for instance, or any prescription drugs. This is more lethal, more dangerous than any prescription drug, and it is more addicting, said Creagan, “We, as legislators, have a duty to do things to save people’s lives. If we don’t ban cigarettes, we are killing people.”

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Bryan Le grew up in the 90's, so the Internet is practically his third parent. This combined with a love for journalism led him to The Fix. When he isn't fulfilling his duties as Editorial Coordinator, he's obsessing over fancy keyboards he can't justify buying. Find Bryan on LinkedIn or Twitter