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US raises tobacco and e-cigarette purchase age from 18 to 21

December 20, 2019

A sign that states "must be over 21" hangs in the store window of a vape shop on December 19, 2019 in New York City. Congress raised the legal age to smoke or vape to 21. (Photo by Stephanie Keith/Getty Images)

The US Congress voted Thursday to raise the minimum age to buy tobacco and e-cigarettes from 18 to 21 across the country, a move intended to stem the rising tide of youth vaping.

Passed by the Senate as part of a wider budgetary bill, it will take effect next year and will mean that tobacco and e-cigarettes will join alcohol as substances that are prohibited to purchase for those under the age of 21.

Nineteen of the country’s 50 states and the capital Washington, DC had already set 21 as the minimum age.

“I’m proud the Senate approved legislation today including our Tobacco-Free Youth Act to help address this urgent crisis and keep these dangerous products away from our children,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican, who co-sponsored the bill along with Democratic Senator Tim Kaine.

The bill is aimed at combating the skyrocketing popularity of vaping among young people, who have turned away from traditional cigarettes and even alcohol in favor of e-cigarettes.

About 28 percent of high school seniors reported vaping in the last 30 days according to a government survey for the year 2019, compared to just 11 percent in 2016.

Another benchmark survey published on Wednesday, called Monitoring the Future, showed that 52 percent of high school students said they had consumed alcohol over the last year, against 73 percent in 2000.

For cigarettes, the proportion of high school students who smoked in the last month fell to under six percent, almost half the figure in 2016.

This summer also saw a major health crisis tied to vaping: an acute lung illness epidemic that has killed more than 50 mostly young people and sickened more than 2,500.

The illness was later tied a substance called vitamin E acetate, which is used as a thickening agent for vaping products containing the main psychoactive substance of cannabis – called THC – that is often sold on the black market. (AFP)