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Tobacco-Free Kids Supports Bipartisan Compromise to Raise Tobacco Age to 21 Nationwide

Statement of Matthew L. Myers, President, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
June 25, 2019

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids supports the bipartisan, compromise legislation announced by Senate HELP Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-WA) to raise the federal tobacco sales age to 21. This compromise legislation raises the tobacco age to 21 nationwide and provides incentives and support for states to conduct enforcement, but it does not require that states pass laws that tobacco companies could use to block local tobacco regulations, including much-needed prohibitions on flavored tobacco products that entice and addict kids.

We applaud Chairman Alexander and Ranking Member Murray for their bipartisan leadership in moving this important legislation forward. It is included in the Lower Health Care Costs Act (S. 1895), which the HELP Committee is scheduled to consider on Wednesday.

Raising the tobacco age to 21 is one important component of a comprehensive strategy to reverse the youth e-cigarette epidemic and continue reducing tobacco use in the United States. However, contrary to the claims of tobacco companies like Juul and Altria, it is not the only action needed. It is critical that policy makers also prohibit the flavored tobacco products that have fueled the youth e-cigarette epidemic and lure kids into nicotine addiction.

The evidence is clear that flavors play a key role in youth initiation and continued use of tobacco products, including e-cigarettes. Over 80% of kids who have used tobacco started with a flavored product, and 97% of current youth e-cigarette users have used a flavored e-cigarette in the past month. E-cigarettes are sold in over 15,000 flavors, including many flavors like cotton candy, gummy bear and cherry crush that clearly appeal to kids.

While the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids supports raising the tobacco age to 21 nationwide, we opposed a provision in the McConnell-Kaine bill that would require each state to pass its own law raising the tobacco age to 21 (in addition to the federal requirement) and put at risk needed federal substance abuse block grant funds if a state didn’t do so. In the past year, tobacco companies in a number of states have sought to include special interest provisions in Tobacco 21 bills that block localities from taking additional actions to reduce youth tobacco use, such as prohibiting the sale of flavored tobacco products.

We are pleased the compromise legislation addresses these concerns, which have been raised by several members of Congress, including Sens. Brian Schatz (D-HI) and Dick Durbin (D-IL). As this legislation moves forward, we urge Congress to maintain this important change and ensure the Tobacco 21 provisions are not weakened.