Congresswoman Diana DeGette

Representing the First District of Colorado
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DeGette introduces legislation to raise smoking age to 21

Apr 30, 2019
Press Release

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette (D-CO) introduced bipartisan, bicameral legislation today to raise the nationwide legal smoking age from 18 to 21.

The legislation – known as the Tobacco to 21 Act – would prohibit the sale or distribution of tobacco products to anyone under the age of 21. It would also prohibit retailers from selling tobacco products to anyone under the age of 30 without a valid photo ID.

The increased age restrictions would apply to any tobacco product sold in the U.S., including cigars, cigarettes, e-cigarettes, liquid nicotine and other vaping products.

“Congress has a responsibility to enact laws to protect the public’s health,” DeGette said. “And right now, tobacco remains the leading cause of preventable death in our country.”

Approximately 1,300 people die every day in the U.S. from smoking-related diseases. Studies have shown that almost all adult smokers – 94% – started smoking before they reached the age of 21.

Twelve states and the District of Columbia have already passed laws to raise the legal tobacco buying age to 21. According to the National Academy of Medicine, raising the minimum legal age to buy tobacco products to 21 nationwide would reduce the number of new tobacco users and decrease smoking frequency by 12%.

DeGette’s legislation comes on the heels of two other similar bills that were recently unveiled to raise the nation’s smoking age to 21 – one in the House by Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-AL) and one in the Senate by Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY).

However, unlike DeGette’s bill, those two bills have been widely panned by anti-smoking advocates, with one group calling them “trojan horses” backed by the tobacco industry.

In raising concerns about the two measures, the groups point to several industry-backed provisions included in the bills they say would create a special exemption for new tobacco products not yet introduced on the market, and prevent states and local governments from enacting tougher anti-smoking measures, such as banning the sale of kid-friendly flavors of nicotine.

“Unlike other bills drafted by the industry, our bill has no special-interest carve-outs or limitations on state and local governments,” DeGette said. “Unlike other bills, our bill was drafted with one simple goal in mind and that’s to protect public health by keeping tobacco products out of the hands of young people.”

DeGette’s legislation has garnered bipartisan support in both chambers of Congress, and widespread support among some of the nation’s leading anti-smoking organizations.

The bill DeGette introduced in the House is cosponsored by Rep. Chris Stewart (R-UT). An identical version of the bill was also introduced today in the Senate by U.S. Sens. Brian Schatz (D-HI) and Todd Young (R-IN).

The “Tobacco to 21 Act” has the support of the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, American Heart Association, American Lung Association, American Public Health Association, Association of Maternal & Child Health Programs, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids and the National Association of County and City Health Officials.

In addition to trying to raise the nation’s smoking age to 21, DeGette introduced legislation earlier this year to curb the rising number of teens now using e-cigarettes by banning the sale of flavored nicotine that experts say are one of the leading causes behind the recent spike teens’ use of such products.

That legislation (H.R. 1498), which was introduced March 5, is currently pending before the House Energy and Commerce Committee where DeGette serves as a senior member.

A copy of DeGette’s bill to raise the nationwide smoking age from 18 to 21 is available here.

And here’s what some of the nation’s leading anti-smoking groups are saying about the bill:

“The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids strongly supports the Tobacco to 21 Act, and we applaud Rep. DeGette and Rep. Stewart for introducing this bipartisan legislation to help prevent young people from starting down a path that often leads to addiction, disease and premature death. Raising the tobacco age to 21 is an important component of a comprehensive strategy to reverse the youth e-cigarette epidemic and continue reducing tobacco use in the United States. As 95 percent of adult smokers start smoking before turning 21, this legislation will help prevent young people from using tobacco and save lives.” — Matthew L. Myers, President of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.  

“The Tobacco to 21 Act takes bold and necessary action to reduce tobacco use among youth and young adults,” said Nancy Brown, CEO of the American Heart Association. “With 95 percent of tobacco users having started their life-threatening habit before age 21, raising the minimum sales age for all tobacco products to 21 nationwide will reduce tobacco use, nicotine addiction and tobacco-related disease and death. The American Heart Association is proud to support this important public health legislation, and we are grateful to Senator Brian Schatz (D-HI), Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL), Senator Todd Young (R-IN), Representative Diana DeGette (D-CO), and Representative Chris Stewart (R-UT) for their leadership on this issue. This bill is an essential step in reaching the tobacco endgame of eliminating tobacco use and nicotine addiction in our nation.” — Nancy Brown, CEO of the American Heart Association

“ACS CAN supports legislation that protects youth from the dangers of tobacco and does not benefit the tobacco industry. We look forward to working with Representatives DeGette and Stewart, as well as Senators Schatz and Young to pass a strong Tobacco 21 bill to protect our children from the dangers of tobacco use.” – Lisa Lacasse, President, American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network

“Tobacco remains the leading preventable cause of death in our nation and is the gateway for death and disability across the lifespan. Raising the age to prevent access to this deadly and addictive product is an essential next step in the effort to further protect our children from using tobacco in the first place.” – Georges C. Benjamin, MD, Executive Director, American Public Health Association 

“As pediatricians, we have serious concerns about the major health threat that tobacco products pose to children and adolescents. We are experiencing a growing epidemic of youth e-cigarette use, with troubling increases in the use of highly addictive products like JUUL among middle and high school students. Raising the purchase age to 21 is an important step to limiting youth access and reversing these dangerous trends before decades of progress in reducing tobacco use among young people are undone. The American Academy of Pediatrics thanks Representative DeGette and Representative Stewart for their leadership on the Tobacco to 21 Act, and is calling on Congress to advance this bill without delay.” – American Academy of Pediatrics President Kyle Yasuda, MD, FAAP

 

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