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Congress approves raising age for tobacco, e-cigarettes to 21

The U.S. House and Senate have now passed a provision that would ban the sale of tobacco and e-cigarettes to anyone under 21 (Source: “Congress Approves Raising Age to 21 for E-Cigarette and Tobacco Sales,” New York Times, Dec. 19, 2019).

The rule comes at a time when Congress and the Trump administration are facing public pressure to reduce the soaring rates of teenage vaping. President Trump has spoken in favor of increasing the age limit, and is expected to sign the measure into law as part of the overall spending package.

Nineteen states, including Ohio, and more than 500 cities and towns have already raised the age to 21. Setting it as a national age limit is viewed as an effort to appease those who are calling for a full ban on e-cigarettes or a flavor ban to prevent addicting a new generation to nicotine.

While many lawmakers and public health experts welcomed a higher age limit for sales of cigarette items, others argue that tougher enforcement of sales laws, as well as higher taxes on products, are also needed to deter teenage use.

Doctors and public health experts have long been concerned about the effects of nicotine on the teenage brain. The National Academy of Medicine has estimated that 90% of adult smokers first start the habit before turning 19, when developing brains are most vulnerable to nicotine addiction. In a 2015 study, the academy reported that banning legal access to those under 21 would spur a 12% reduction in tobacco use by the time current teenagers became adults; with the biggest impact among 15-to-17-year olds.