Federal Tobacco 21 legislation will be included in the spending bill that must pass Congress before the Christmas break in order to avoid a government shutdown. The new law will include e-cigarettes among the “tobacco products” limited to those 21 and over.
The provision has widespread bipartisan support, including from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who introduced his own Tobacco 21 legislation earlier this year. The bill is also supported by powerful Illinois Democrat Dick Durbin, a fierce opponent of vaping.
President Trump indicated at the recent White House vaping round table that he would probably support a T-21 bill. The bill must be passed by both houses of Congress and signed by the President to become law.
The language in the spending bill comes from other bipartisan T-21 bills from Sens. Durbin and Mitt Romney, and Sens. Todd Young and Brian Schatz, according to ABC News. The bill is described as “clean” by Paul Blair of Americans for Tax Reform, meaning it includes no unrelated provisions that will make it controversial.
The spending bill language does not include a flavor ban or online sales restrictions, according to Blair, who has been a leading vaping advocate in Washington and a key figure in fighting the flavor ban announced by the Trump administration in September.
Currently, the legal age to buy vaping products varies by state. This year, T-21 laws were very popular, and passed in state legislatures. Nineteen states and the District of Columbia now limit tobacco sales to those 21 and over, or have passed T-21 laws that will take effect later. Three other states have set 19 as the legal age. The minimum age to buy tobacco in the other 28 states is 18. The bill in Congress forces the states to change their minimum age or lose federal aid.
Proponents of Tobacco 21 say that high school students will have less access to adult products if their peers are unable to buy them. Many high school seniors are 18, but few high school students have friends as old as 21. Friends and relatives are the most common source of vaping products used by high school students.
“To me, the most serious threat involves the use of vaping devices for teens under 18 years old,” Sen. McConnell said in April. 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,” said Senator McConnell.