LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WKYT) - Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R - Kentucky, has announced he will introduce legislation to raise the tobacco purchasing age to 21.
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“For some time, I’ve been hearing from the parents who are seeing an unprecedented spike in vaping among their teenage children. In addition, we all know people who started smoking at a young age and who struggled to quit as adults. Unfortunately, it’s reaching epidemic levels around the country," McConnell said.
The McConnell bill will be introduced in May, and it will also cover vaping devices.
“My legislation will be similar to the current system, where retailers have the responsibility to verify the age of anyone buying tobacco products—we’ll just raise the age from 18 to 21," McConnell said. "Twelve states have enacted laws to raise the purchasing age of tobacco products to 21. These bills will serve as helpful guidance as I craft my federal legislation. For example, my bill will include an exemption for men and women who serve in uniform, similar to state T21 laws.”
McConnell cites Kentucky's high cancer rates and the link the smoking as reasons why he is introducing legislation. He said 34 percent of cancers in Kentucky are directly tied to smoking. He also believes the most serious threat is people under 18 using vaping devices.
Tony Florence is the president of Vapor Stockroom and 723 Vapor in Lexington. He said doesn't believe the legislation would be helpful when you consider how it would be enforced.
"How can you expect them to stop using them? No one wants kids to use vaping products or cigarette products, but if you want to address this issue, it doesn't matter if it's T18 or T21," Florence said. "If you don't have better enforcement and better penalties."
Florence also pointed out how legislation like this would hurt businesses like his by losing customers ages 18-20.
"What happens when you take away 15 percent of someone's gross revenues? A lot of these businesses are going to go under. You're going to have a lot more unemployment, less revenue for the state - that's not a good thing for people who are trying to quit [smoking]," Florence said.
Efforts to raise Kentucky's tobacco purchasing age to 21 in the state legislature failed during the 2019 legislative session.