HENRICO COUNTY, Va. (WRIC) — Starting next week, people under the age of 21 will be prohibited from purchasing all tobacco products, including e-cigarettes and vaping devices, in Virginia. U.S. Senator Tim Kaine (D-Va.) spoke during a roundtable Monday about his bipartisan effort to raise the minimum age to purchase tobacco products nationwide.
In an effort to tackle the youth vaping epidemic and allow states to enforce stricter restrictions, Sen. Kaine and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky) introduced the Tobacco-Free Youth Act in May.
Sen. Kaine met with healthcare leaders as well as youth advocates in Henrico County to discuss the bill. The goal of the proposed legislation applies not only to cigarettes but also works to break the habit of younger people using electronic cigarettes and vaping.
“Really put the enforcement burden more on the retailer than the young person getting tobacco whose underage,” Sen. Kaine said.
8News spoke with a local business owner about the impact the legislation banning people under 21 from buying tobacco in Virginia will have on their business.
“It’s going to be tough, it’s going to be scary,” Kishan Devani.
Devani has run The Cigarette Store on Forest Hill Avenue for the last 15 years. He says the store’s customer base will shrink next week.
“People will come and now I’m going to say I’m sorry I can’t sell you any cigarettes or vape or tobacco,” Devani told 8News. “Yes, we’re going to lose business. We’re going to lose that market between 18-21. But like I said what can we do.”
The bill introduced by Sens. Kaine and McConnell differs from Virginia’s new law. The Tobacco-Free Youth Act does not include a military exemption and offers incentives for states through substance abuse funding.
Sen. Kaine hopes the legislation would motivate teens to stop buying electronic cigarette products like JUUL. A spokesperson for the company said in a statement to 8News that JUUL supports raising the federal smoking age to 21.
“JUUL Labs, Inc exists to help adult smokers switch from combustible cigarettes, which remain the leading cause of preventable death around the world. JUUL is an alternative that can help the 34 million adults in this country who still smoke. We do not want non-nicotine users to buy JUUL products, and are committed to preventing underage access to our products. We strongly support raising the national minimum purchasing age for all tobacco and vapor products to 21, and have implemented a comprehensive action plan to combat underage access, appeal, and use of JUUL products,” the statement read.
“We stopped the sale of non-tobacco and non-menthol based flavored JUULpods to our traditional retail store partners over six months ago, enhanced our online age-verification, strengthened our retailer compliance and shut down our Facebook and Instagram accounts while working constantly to remove inappropriate social media content generated by others. We also continue to develop technologies to further restrict underage access with our distributors, at retail establishments and as features of potential new products.”
Sen. Kaine said the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee will discuss the Tobacco-Free Youth Act this Wednesday.
“I didn’t know Medicaid expansion will cover smoking cessation for those who are part of that. But base Medicaid program does not include that as a mandated benefit. There ought to be an even-handedness there,” Kaine told 8News. “And this would require legislation and could we do that with the base Medicaid program that smoking cessation be required?”