Spending package expected to pass includes raising legal smoking, vaping age to 21

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Bearded man in hood smoking electronic cigarette

WASHINGTON — As teen vaping reaches record numbers and lawmakers have been pressured to act in the wake of vape-related illness, President Donald Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell have become vocal supporters of a plan to raise the legal smoking age to 21.

While health advocates are celebrating the support, some Democrats say much more needs to be done to stop teens from smoking.

Buried inside the 2,000-page spending package sits a bipartisan plan to raise the national legal age to purchase tobacco and e-cigarette products from 18 to 21.

“It’s a common sense way to take an important step forward,” Erika Sward, with the American Lung Association, said.

Sward says the change will stop hundreds of thousands of young people from smoking.

“Tobacco 21 is an important down payment, but much more action is needed,” she said.

The American Lung Association and a coalition of health advocacy groups have urged congress and the president also to remove flavored e-cigarette products from the market.

“The writing is on the wall. Flavored products attract kids,” Sward said.

Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Mich., agrees. She said the problem will never fully go away unless flavors are gone.

“We’ve got kids who are dying,” Dingell said. “Kids are likely to vape when they’re under 21.”

The Trump administration said they’d do the same back in September but recently pulled back.

“Everything in public health is about finding the right balance there,” Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar said.

Azar said the president fears that rushing a ban could create a dangerous black market.

“No timeline. We want to get the right answer,” he said.

At a meeting in November, Trump and leaders in the vaping industry agreed raising the minimum age was a good idea.

If it passes, the Food and Drug Administration will have six months to update the law.

Health advocates have said, in addition to a flavor ban, they’d like congress to also pass bills to make it impossible for teens to purchase tobacco products online, as they see it as a giant loophole to this new law.

The Democratic-controlled House voted Tuesday to pass a $1.4 trillion government-wide spending package. The White House said Tuesday that Trump will sign the measure.

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