McConnell drafts plan to raise national smoking age to 21

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WASHINGTON (NEXSTAR) — Congress could be closer than ever to raising the national smoking age to 21.

On Thursday, top Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he’s drafting a plan to ban all tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, from those under 21.

While it’s still too early to tell, supporters of Tobacco 21 — a group that wants to raise the legal minimum sales age to 21 — says it’s skeptical of McConnell, who represents Kentucky — the second largest tobacco-producing state in the country.

McConnell says teen vaping is his biggest concern. The U.S. Surgeon General calls the problem an epidemic and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says one in five high school students reported vaping last year.

Mike Hogan, who is with the pro-vaping Smoke Free Alternatives Trade Association, says he supports keeping tobacco out of schools.

“If that helps get vapor products and tobacco products out of high schools, we’re all for it,” he said.

While Hogan says he’s optimistic about McConnell’s plan, he hopes it doesn’t go too far.

Right now, Democrats are pushing plans that would also ban flavored tobacco. That’s something even the FDA has cautioned may hurt adults who are trying to wean themselves off traditional toxic cigarettes.

“They’ve sort of lumped them together and applied the anti-smoking mantra to e-cigarettes,” Hogan said. “And I think that’s a critical mistake.”

At least a dozen states have already passed some version of a Tobacco 21 law. McConnell has yet to release specifics about his plan but says it will include an exemption for those in the military.

Paul Billings with the American Lung Association says he’s skeptical and fears McConnell’s bill will include loopholes and protections for tobacco companies. Until details are out, he’s encouraging lawmakers to sign on to other Democrat-backed plans in the Senate.

McConnell says he’ll introduce his plan in May and expects bipartisan support in the House and Senate. He already has the support of the largest tobacco company in the country, who within minutes of his announcement, announced they fully support his plan.

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