Congress is back in DC, and with election season nearing, the legislative calendar is sure to be more political than usual during this time of year. Democrats have indicated they will push for expanded background checks on gun purchases and will keep up the pressure with hearings on impeachment. Republicans, on the other hand, are pushing hard for a vote on the U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade agreement, which businesses view as a top priority.
On top of that, both the House and Senate have only 13 working days to pass a spending bill to avoid another government shutdown. Given the Democrats’ majority in the House and the Republicans’ control in the Senate, nothing will come easy over the next few weeks and months before elections next year drags all legislative activity to a halt.
Despite all of that, leaders in both parties can actually accomplish something in the short amount of time and without spending precious political capital: voting on and passing national legislation that would raise the minimum age to purchase tobacco products from 18 to 21, also referred to as Tobacco 21.
As more headlines appear related to tobacco use among teens and young adults, policymakers on both sides of the aisle have started to take note and take action. Eighteen states have passed their own version of Tobacco 21. And these are states that span the political spectrum.
For instance, the Texas legislature and governor’s mansion have been in complete Republican control since 2003, and the Tobacco 21 bill (Senate Bill 21) passed the Senate with zero “nay” votes, and overwhelmingly passed the House. In June, Republican Governor Greg Abbott signed the bill into law, which went into effect on September 1st. And in 2016, California became the second state after Hawaii to raise their minimum age to purchase tobacco products to 21. Democrats hold super majorities in both the California House and Senate.
There are currently bills in both the House and Senate that would raise the age of purchasing tobacco to 21 nationally. Democratic Congresswoman Diana DeGette introduced a bill in April with several Republican co-sponsors, and in the Senate Republican Mitch McConnell and Democrat Tim Kaine introduced a similar bill. Not only are these policymakers on opposite sides of the aisle, but Kentucky and Virginia are the second and third largest tobacco producing states, respectively. Even the tobacco industry is supportive of raising the age to legally purchase tobacco nationally to 21.
These members are finally taking action, and more of their colleagues should follow their lead and support these bills instead of ones that are full of loopholes and have no chance of passing. But still more must be done. Congress has yet to hold a hearing or pass these Tobacco 21 bills, despite bipartisan and industry backing, along with 73 percent of Americans in support.
Members of both parties will be searching for a legislative and political victory ahead of election season, and with few opportunities for bipartisan agreement on the upcoming congressional calendar, Tobacco 21 is one of the few legislative successes that could not only be bipartisan but also make a huge difference to address the underage use of e-vapor and combat this epidemic.
Congress has the opportunity to show Americans this Fall that they can get things done. Both the Senate and the House can achieve a commonsense policy that is smart politically for both parties because it’s positively contributing to the health and wellness of a generation by voting on and passing Tobacco 21.