Government

You must be 21 to legally vape, part of 'Tobacco 21' initiative Congress is poised to agree on

'Tobacco 21' deal included in massive package to avert shutdown

The proportion of U.S. high school seniors who are vaping tobacco products nearly doubled in the past year, with more th
The proportion of U.S. high school seniors who are vaping tobacco products nearly doubled in the past year, with more than 1 in 5 now saying they have vaped to get a hit of nicotine in the past 30 days, according to a new study. (Ded Mityay/Dreamstime/TNS)

WASHINGTON — Sales of tobacco products and e-cigarettes to anyone under 21 would be banned nationwide under a year-end congressional spending bill likely to pass this week, congressional staffers said Monday.

Public health advocates praised the move, saying it would help reduce kids’ access to vaping products. But they stressed much more action is needed to reverse the youth-vaping surge. And several expressed concern that the White House will use the “Tobacco 21” measure to avoid imposing the flavored e-cigarette ban that President Donald Trump announced in September but subsequently backed off of.

The anti-vaping measure is just one of many unrelated provisions crammed into a $1.4 trillion spending package designed to avoid a government shutdown this weekend — a package larded up with both partisan and bipartisan provisions trying to catch a ride on the last train out of a bitterly divided Congress this year.

The Tobacco 21 measure has bipartisan support and was introduced in May by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va. In November, Trump told reporters he supported an increase in the tobacco buying age to 21 from the current 18.

The measure is partly designed to reduce teens’ ability to get e-cigarettes from older friends or acquaintances. Regulators have said that “social access” is the most common way for kids to get vaping products.

“While raising the age to 21 is a positive step, in this case, the tobacco industry supports it to avoid other policies — like removing flavors from e-cigarettes and menthol cigarettes that would have a much greater effect,” said Matthew Myers, president of Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, an anti-tobacco advocacy group.

He noted that underage youth vaping has increased sharply in the last two years, even with a minimum legal age of 18.

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“If age restrictions were a solution,” he said, “we wouldn’t be having this problem.”

Trump said in September that the Food and Drug Administration planned to take off the market any e-cigarettes that were not designed to taste like tobacco.

But under fire from vape-shop owners and conservative groups, he backed away from the plan last month and has yet to announce a substitute. The administration’s handling of the issue drew criticism from senators of both parties.

Nineteen states and the District of Columbia have barred sales of tobacco products to consumers under 21. Iowa considered such legislation earlier this year, but it failed to gain traction in the Legislature.

The bipartisan agreement is contained in the sprawling budget package, 2,313 pages long, as lawmakers wrap up unfinished work. The mammoth measure takes a split-the-differences approach that’s a product of divided power, offering lawmakers of all stripes plenty to vote for and against.

Trump hasn’t said for sure that he’ll sign the measure, but the fact that McConnell and House Speak Nancy Pelosi have reached agreement on it will be a major factor.

Also in the measure:

• $25 million to study gun violence in America next year, the first time in more than two decades that federal funds will be dedicated to researching the contentious issue.

The National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention would share the funding.

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• $1.4 billion for new barriers along the U.S.-Mexico border, equal to last year’s appropriation and preserving Trump’s ability to use his budget powers to tap other accounts for several times that amount. That’s a blow for liberal opponents of the wall, but an acceptable trade-off for pragmatic-minded Democrats who wanted to gain $27 billion in increases for domestic programs.

• Labor won repeal of the “Cadillac tax,” a 40 percent tax on high-cost employer health plans, which originally was intended to curb rapidly growing health care spending. But it disproportionately affected high-end plans won under union contracts, and Democratic labor allies had previously succeeded in temporary repeals.

But as the deals have added up — they were still being tallied over the weekend — so has the burden to the deficit.

The repeal of the Cadillac tax and other tax provisions called for under the Affordable Care Act spelled a $400 billion hit alone to the deficit — and the cost of other provision was still being calculated.

The Associated Press, Washington Post and Tribune News Service contributed to this report.

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