Dem senator calls on McConnell to endorse bipartisan bill to raise smoking age to 21

Dem senator calls on McConnell to endorse bipartisan bill to raise smoking age to 21
© Greg Nash

The lead Democratic sponsor of bipartisan legislation to raise the minimum age to purchase tobacco to 21 called on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellFurious Republicans prepare to rebuke Trump on Syria Republicans wrestle with impeachment strategy Mattis warns 'ISIS will resurge' without U.S. pressure on Syria MORE (R-Ky.) on Wednesday to co-sponsor the bill rather than introduce his own.

Sen. Brian SchatzBrian Emanuel SchatzNBA draws bipartisan backlash over China response Federal aid is reaching storm-damaged communities too late Impeachment threatens to drown out everything MORE (D-Hawaii) said the legislation, which is supported by many major public health groups, is the best way to ensure minors are protected from the harms of tobacco.

“We have all of the major tobacco cessation advocacy organizations supporting this legislation, and for one simple reason. It has no loopholes. It has no exceptions. There are no tricks. It is a clean piece of legislation,” Schatz said during a press conference. 

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“If Leader McConnell is interested in joining our effort, I think the cleanest way for him to do that would be for him to co-sponsor our bill. We look forward to seeing what he proposes if he proposes something,” Schatz said, adding that he thinks the bipartisan bill has the most momentum.

The bill is co-sponsored by Sens. Todd YoungTodd Christopher YoungFederal aid is reaching storm-damaged communities too late Senators pressure Trump to help end humanitarian crisis in Kashmir Congress set for chaotic fall sprint MORE (R-Ind.), Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinSenators take fundraising efforts to Nats playoff games Overnight Health Care: Watchdog finds DEA allowed more opioids even as overdose deaths rose | Judge temporarily blocks Georgia abortion law | Three states report more vaping deaths | Dem proposes new fix for surprise medical bills During impeachment storm, senators cross aisle to lessen mass incarceration MORE (D-Ill.) and Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyVideo of fake Trump shooting members of media shown at his Miami resort: report Reid warns Democrats not to underestimate Trump McConnell tightlipped as impeachment furor grows MORE (R-Utah). The senators noted the bill is not comprehensive but stressed that its strength was in its minimalism.

“This is the most impactful, achievable public policy measure we can take,” Young said. “We’re seeking to build a broad coalition here, unapologetically.”

McConnell last month said he was planning to introduce a bill by the end of May that would raise the minimum age to buy tobacco products from 18 to 21.

The announcement from McConnell, who represents a tobacco-producing state, was praised by industry giant Altria. The company also endorsed the bipartisan legislation from Schatz.

Public health groups have said any tobacco industry support makes them wary, but they don’t have a position on a potential McConnell bill because it hasn’t been introduced.

Tobacco companies are on the front line pushing for “Tobacco 21” legislation at the federal and state levels, mainly in an effort to stave off stronger regulations that could have disastrous effects on the industry.

Schatz said he is worried that the legislation could be weighed down by “loophole” provisions such as an exemption for members of the military. But he also cautioned against any provisions that would make it more comprehensive such as language banning certain tobacco flavors.

McConnell said his measure would include an exemption for members of the military, which is something anti-tobacco groups have opposed.

Young said he did not want to address any hypothetical legislation from McConnell and expressed confidence that his bill will get the required support of 60 senators needed to pass.