Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., plans to introduce a new bill next month that would raise the age to buy tobacco products to 21. It's part of an effort to combat teen vaping, something he calls a “most serious threat.”
Speaking at the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky in Louisville on Thursday, McConnell said his new legislation will tackle the growing use of vaping products; more teens have been trading in cigarettes for the electronic counterparts, which some have branded safer.
"For some time, I've been hearing from the parents who are seeing an unprecedented spike in vaping among their teenage children," he said.
The bill will continue to hold retailers responsible for verifying the age of anyone buying tobacco products but will raise that age from 18 to 21. McConnell’s office said 12 states have already enacted laws raising the minimum legal age to 21.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the use of e-cigarettes is perilous for young adults. In addition to nicotine and other tobacco products, vape products contain flavorings that may be safe to eat but not to inhale. They can also be harmful to the lungs in the long term.
The CDC said earlier this year that the vaping boom is the most likely reason that cigarette smoking rates among U.S. high school and middle school students has flattened in the past three years, after declining fairly steadily for decades.
A survey conducted by the CDC last spring asked more than 20,000 middle and high school students if they had used any tobacco products in the previous month, and found that about 28 percent of high school e-cigarette users said they vaped 20 or more days in the previous month — nearly a 40 percent jump from the previous year.
"I hope and I expect this legislation to achieve strong bipartisan support in the Senate," McConnell said. "As you all know, I'm in a particularly good position to enact legislation. And this is going to be a top priority that I'll be working on."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.