By Justin Chermol
In an attempt to curb the ongoing underage smoking crisis, a bipartisan group of senators have sponsored a bill that would raise the federal age to purchase tobacco or tobacco-related products to 21.
"I think the bill is a great bill," Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) told Cheddar Thursday. The bill does not make exemptions for military members and gives states the power to raise the age even higher.
The legislation comes as e-cigarettes boom in popularity among America's youth. According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), there was a 78 percent increase in the product's use among high school students from 2017 to 2018. Last year alone, nearly 3.6 million youths used e-cigarettes, making them the most commonly used tobacco product.
"The sad thing is, over the last decades, we've made huge progress in reducing youth smoking. All of our progress has been wiped out because of e-cigarettes, all of it," Kaine said.
The wide array of flavors, from mango to berry, also plays a role in the rise of adolescent smoking. A survey from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the FDA found that 31 percent of respondents said the availability of flavors was the reason for smoking or vaping.
"Youth vaping is a public health crisis ... when teenagers use tobacco, they are quite literally altering their brain's chemistry and making it more susceptible to addiction," Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said during a speech on the Senate floor Wednesday.
The Senate's bill, however, does not specifically call for increased regulations on flavors.
"I also favor steps that would reduce flavors, and the other kinds of things that vaping products use which are very attractive to young people," Kaine told Cheddar. "That's not in this bill, but I support other legislation and other initiatives that would do that."
Big tobacco and JUUL, the major e-cigarette brand, are supporting the effort through various lobbying efforts after facing scrutiny for marketing their products to youth.
Kaine also explained that the federal bill would set incentives for states also to raise the minimum age themselves.
"If states do raise their ages, then you're gonna get better enforcement of the 21-year-old limit," he said.