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 McConnellAre Democrats turning Trump-like? House Democrat calls for gun control: Cities can ban plastic straws but 'we can't ban assault weapons?' Churches are arming and training congregants in response to mass shootings: report MORE (R-Ky.) on Wednesday to co-sponsor the bill rather than introduce his own.

Sen. Brian SchatzBrian Emanuel Schatz'Medicare for All' complicates Democrats' pitch to retake Senate Criminal justice reform should extend to student financial aid Booker, Durbin and Leahy introduce bill to ban death penalty 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 YoungOvernight Defense: Senate fails to override Trump veto on Saudi arms sales | Two US troops killed in Afghanistan | Senators tee up nominations, budget deal ahead of recess Senate fails to override Trump veto on Saudi arms sale GOP chairman yanks Saudi bill after Democrats muscle through tougher language MORE (R-Ind.), Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinSenate Democrats push Trump to permanently shutter migrant detention facility House panel investigating decision to resume federal executions To combat domestic terrorism, Congress must equip law enforcement to fight rise in white supremacist attacks MORE (D-Ill.) and Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyA US-UK free trade agreement can hold the Kremlin to account Ex-CIA chief worries campaigns falling short on cybersecurity Overnight Defense: US, Russia tensions grow over nuclear arms | Highlights from Esper's Asia trip | Trump strikes neutral tone on Hong Kong protests | General orders ethics review of special forces 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.