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News: Bipartisan Congressional Bill Would Raise Minimum Age for Tobacco to 21

22 May 2019

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If you need a reminder that anti-tobacco efforts are often a bipartisan affair, look no further than legislation introduced by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA). The bill would raise the nationwide age for purchasing tobacco to 21.

The federal minimum age for purchasing tobacco products is 18, although state and local governments can set the minimum age higher (14 states have set the age at 21, along with 470 municipalities). Obviously, raising the minimum age above 18 raises questions about why adults who can vote and serve in the military cannot choose whether or not to enjoy a cigar.

The issue of members of the military who are under 21, even if they are deployed overseas, being banned from choosing use tobacco products was previously a hold-up in the proposed legislation. While originally McConnell expressed reservations about such a law applying to service members, he seems to have relented.

The largest cigarette company, Altria, has backed legislation raising the minimum age for tobacco purchases to 21. Notably, both McConnell and Kaine ares senators from states traditionally known for growing cigarette tobacco.

Analysis

In a political climate that increasingly purports to respect tolerance of personal choice, the double-standard when it comes to tobacco and adults is glaring. As many have observed before, there is no way to reconcile giving 18-year-olds the right to vote and the right (and, theoretically, through draft registration, the obligation) to serve in the military, but not the ability to choose whether or not to enjoy tobacco products.

Although tobacco companies may back the legislation, there is little reason to think that the “T21” movement was spreading to all 50 states. Further, to the extent T21 was spreading, it wasn’t likely to be extended anytime soon above age 21, which is also when the law limits adults from purchasing alcohol.

Ultimately, given the profile of most purchasers of handmade cigars, raising the minimum age for purchasing tobacco is unlikely to have a significant effect on cigar-specific retailers, despite the obvious aforementioned hypocrisy of simultaneously permitting 18-year-olds to both vote and serve in the military. That said, there is the possibility that raising the age for the purchase of tobacco to 21 could slow down efforts to regulate tobacco by the FDA.

As the Tobacco Control Act (which gives the FDA the authority to regulate premium cigars) specifically refers to limiting tobacco usage by minors under the age of 18, there is an argument that a federal tobacco age changed to 21 should result in a reset of FDA regulations. Specifically, for handmade cigars (which were always less likely to be used by minors) there is even less logic for the FDA to regulate cigars on the grounds that it is necessary to prevent youth usage if all tobacco is illegal for those under 21.

Patrick S

photo credit: Stogie Guys

 

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