In new legislation proposed Monday, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) aims to make 21 the new minimum age for purchasing any tobacco product. McConnell said the legislation, introduced with Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), was driven in part by the substantial use of e-cigarette and vaping technologies.
‘Youth vaping is a public health crisis,” he said. “It’s our responsibility as parents and public servants to do everything we can to keep these harmful products out of high schools and out of youth culture.”
Owensboro Times reported in March that local school resource officers said JUULing, the act of smoking a particular brand of electronic cigarettes called a JUUL, is a daily problem at Daviess County and Owensboro High Schools. Those officers also said there are no demographic or gender bias when it comes to the JUULing phenomenon.
One small pod of e-juice or e-liquid contained in a JUUL is equal to one pack of cigarettes. Students regularly vape through more than one pod a day, according to the SROs. They said perhaps the most significant problem is that students probably share their JUULs, some of which may be filled with pods containing other substances — most popularly, THC.
Hailing from a state once known for its tobacco farming, McConnell said he recognized that he might seem like an unlikely champion for raising the national age to purchase tobacco. He said it is his commitment to Kentucky’s farm families that has convinced him of the need to raise the age requirement to purchase tobacco products.
“Kentucky is proud of what we make. But we also take pride in the health and development of our children,” McConnell said. “And the sad reality is that Kentucky has been the home to the highest rates of cancer in the country.”
According to McConnel, Kentucky leads the entire nation in the percentage of cancer cases tied directly to smoking.
“Our state once grew tobacco like none other – and now we’re being hit by the health consequences of tobacco use like none other,” he said.
But nationwide, McConnell said, e-cigarettes and vaping is at an all time high and researchers have seen a spike in teenage use.
“Moms and dads across the country have seen their middle and high schoolers take up this new habit and start out down a deadly path that our society had previously spent decades working hard to close down,” he said. “From 2017 to 2018, high school students’ use of what are classified as tobacco products shot up by nearly 40 percent.”
McConnell cited that because 90 percent of adult daily smokers said they used their first tobacco product before age 19, youth vaping is a public health crisis.
“It’s our responsibility as parents and public servants to do everything we can to keep these harmful products out of high schools and out of youth culture,” he said. “We need to put the national age of purchase at 21. That’s why I’m introducing this legislation. In recognition of tobacco’s storied past in Kentucky and aware of the threat that all tobacco products pose now and for future generations.”