WASHINGTON (AP) — Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, whose home state of Kentucky was long one of the nation’s leading tobacco producers, said Monday he was introducing legislation to raise the minimum smoking age from 18 to 21.
The chamber’s top Republican was releasing his proposal at a time when the use of e-cigarettes is growing and underage vaping has soared, raising concerns by health experts. McConnell’s measure would apply to tobacco products, e-cigarettes and vapor products.
“Youth vaping is a public health crisis,” said McConnell, who was introducing the bill with Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va. Virginia has also been a major tobacco producer.
Kentucky’s cancer rate has been among the nation’s highest. The state’s farmers have been turning away from tobacco and increasingly growing industrial hemp, a product that McConnell helped legalize.
“Kentucky farmers don’t want their children to get hooked on tobacco products while they’re in middle school or high school any more than any parents anywhere want that to happen,” McConnell said on the Senate floor.
McConnell said it’s up to parents and public officials to keep these products “out of high schools and out of youth culture.”
“Today, we are coming together to side with young people’s health. With this bipartisan legislation, Senator McConnell and I are working to address one of the most significant public health issues facing our nation today,” said Kaine. “Raising the tobacco age to 21 is a critical part of our efforts to improve public health and keep tobacco products out of schools and away from our children.”