Mitch McConnell’s Misguided Attempt to Raise the Smoking Age

 

Several months ago, reading a book set in the 1800s, our family hit a snag: explaining what a cigar is. In the scene, the father was smoking one, and my daughter had no idea what it was, and I realized how difficult it would be to explain it. I immediately tried “it’s like a cigarette” and then heard a shocking follow-up question “What’s a cigarette?”

Growing up, my mother smoked. I was exposed to so much second-hand smoke, you could say I was a smoker as well. Most of my friends had at least one parent who smoked, and it was ubiquitous. Now, smoking has become so rarified because of the cost and health concerns, few of my generation and younger took up or kept the habit. Vaping is popular, but a very different animal than smoking leaf-filled sticks like cigarettes or cigars. We don’t have a smoking crisis. And yet, Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is, for some reason, backing legislation to raise the smoking age to 21, like we currently have for alcohol.

The Washington Times reports,

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced Monday he’s backing legislation to raise the national age of tobacco use to 21 years of age, putting major legislative heft behind a growing bipartisan push.

Mr. McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, acknowledged it might seem odd for a senator from his state to be backing this push, but he said he’s come to think something needs to change.

“It shouldn’t be 18 any longer. It should be 21,” he said.

 

His plan would apply to all tobacco-linked products, including cigarettes and vaping devices.

 

Mr. McConnell also said a growing awareness of health problems from tobacco is creating a chance for Congress to make changes and confront E-cigarettes, whose use among teens has been soaring.

 

Youth vaping is a public health crisis,” the senator said.

An individual with expertise in the public policy issues in the vaping arena told me the McConnell decision is related to trying to keep vapes out of the hands of high schoolers. Much like alcohol, when access is limited and seniors in high school can’t pass contraband down to lower classmen.

There has been a misguided push to ban vaping altogether and McConnell’s bill is an attempt to circumvent attempts at bans by keeping vaping out of the hands of young people while still making it accessible to adults. A ban has actually passed in San Francisco, and an assault on the practice is in motion. Funnily, the campaign in the Bay Area was funded by a major tobacco company, and they took aim at vaping in the city to pad their own bottom line. Vaping reduces adult smoking rates; in Ireland, where vaping is banned, the smoking rate for adults is 22%; in England where it is not, the rate is 15%. These neighboring cultures and countries have a great deal in common, and the greatly reduced smoking rate in England is attributable to the popularity of vaping.

Despite the public policy reasoning behind limiting youth access is sound, it’s still an infuriating step for a conservative to further infantilize a generation with a foot already back in the cradle.

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There are 46 comments.

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  1. Percival Thatcher

    Raise the age for smoking until John Boehner starts getting carded again.

    • #1
    • May 20, 2019, at 7:06 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  2. RPD Member
    RPD

    What is the public health crisis with vaping? Is there data correlating bad health outcomes with vaping? I don’t follow it closely but I haven’t seen anything about it.

    • #2
    • May 20, 2019, at 7:22 PM PDT
    • 4 likes
  3. Aaron Miller Member

    It’s McConnell’s master plan to get Republicans back in the role of righteous losers, where they can get reelected for talking a big game and doing nothing. People were beginning to expect results!

    • #3
    • May 20, 2019, at 7:25 PM PDT
    • 8 likes
  4. Mike H Coolidge

    I’ve recently heard it put so succinctly: “Smoking smells like freedom.”

    • #4
    • May 20, 2019, at 8:22 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  5. Stina Member

    The men in my family smoke cigars. I love the smell of real tobacco from cigars and pipes, however I do not smoke. I enjoy its scent on my husband, though.

    Cigarettes will never hold that appeal.

    Knowing that its tobacco funding the anti-vaping campaigns makes sense. I was having a hard time figuring that one out.

    • #5
    • May 20, 2019, at 8:28 PM PDT
    • 5 likes
  6. EJHill Podcaster

    My father died of Esophageal cancer due to smoking (Thanks Uncle Sam for the free wartime Camels!) What they should have done is raise the smoking age every year starting in 1966. You’d have to be 74 to buy a pack of smokes today. But the government is addicted to tobacco taxes.

    • #6
    • May 20, 2019, at 8:30 PM PDT
    • 6 likes
  7. Randy Webster Member

    When the government can regulate anything, they’ll regulate everything.

    • #7
    • May 20, 2019, at 9:13 PM PDT
    • 9 likes
  8. The Cloaked Gaijin Member

    I would have agreed with you, but I just came back from one of the cheapest motels in town. That Red Roof Inn non-smoking room was definitely a smoking room.

    I get home, and it’s like that Seinfeld episode where Jerry’s valet parking attendant had body odor. He had to sell his car. I may need to sell my house now.

    Change my contact lenses? Heck, I feel like I may now need to change my eyeballs.

    Thanks Red Roof Inn.

    • #8
    • May 20, 2019, at 11:28 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  9. Arahant Member

    Why is it even a federal issue?

    • #9
    • May 21, 2019, at 4:02 AM PDT
    • 9 likes
  10. 9thDistrictNeighbor Member

    If you are a parent, you will agree that vaping is a tremendous public health crisis. Kids down to middle school age are vaping. Teens vape all sorts of substances. Vape pens are small and easily hidden. And whereas it takes a substantial amount of time to smoke a pack of cigarettes, kids can suck down a vape pen filled with nicotine (or pot, or whatever) very quickly…they do it to get a buzz. No one has any idea whether vaping is “safer.” But if you think that spraying an aerosol can directly into your lungs is a good idea, keep it away from my kid. Vape pens have caused a lot of heartache in this household. I support this legislation wholeheartedly. 

    • #10
    • May 21, 2019, at 4:07 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  11. Full Size Tabby Member

    EJHill (View Comment):

    My father died of Esophageal cancer due to smoking (Thanks Uncle Sam for the free wartime Camels!) What they should have done is raise the smoking age every year starting in 1966. You’d have to be 74 to buy a pack of smokes today. But the government is addicted to tobacco taxes.

    My father never smoked, and the free cigarettes the Army provided never tempted him to start. So my father bartered with them to get favors from his fellow soldiers.

    • #11
    • May 21, 2019, at 4:39 AM PDT
    • 3 likes
  12. Randy Webster Member

    Bethany Mandel: We don’t have a smoking crisis. And yet, Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is, for some reason, backing legislation to raise the smoking age to 21, like we currently have for alcohol.

    If I recall correctly, the Feds didn’t pass a law making the drinking age 21; they threatened withholding federal funds from states that didn’t pass laws making the drinking age 21.

    • #12
    • May 21, 2019, at 4:51 AM PDT
    • 5 likes
  13. Arahant Member

    Randy Webster (View Comment):

    Bethany Mandel: We don’t have a smoking crisis. And yet, Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is, for some reason, backing legislation to raise the smoking age to 21, like we currently have for alcohol.

    If I recall correctly, the Feds didn’t pass a law making the drinking age 21; they threatened withholding federal funds from states that didn’t pass laws making the drinking age 21.

    Which is how they got around the Federalism issue. It’s still none of their business.

    • #13
    • May 21, 2019, at 4:53 AM PDT
    • 5 likes
  14. Randy Webster Member

    Arahant (View Comment):

    Randy Webster (View Comment):

    Bethany Mandel: We don’t have a smoking crisis. And yet, Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is, for some reason, backing legislation to raise the smoking age to 21, like we currently have for alcohol.

    If I recall correctly, the Feds didn’t pass a law making the drinking age 21; they threatened withholding federal funds from states that didn’t pass laws making the drinking age 21.

    Which is how they got around the Federalism issue. It’s still none of their business.

    It still surprises me that the courts allowed that bit of end-aroundism.

    • #14
    • May 21, 2019, at 5:09 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  15. Stad Thatcher

    Thanks to Mitch, the GOP will once again be known as the “no fun” party to young people. Is smoking cigarettes bad for you? Of course it is. So are a lot of other things (voting Democrat, for one).

    Come on, McConnell – we’ve got a House to retake and a Senate to hold on to. Don’t blow it!

    • #15
    • May 21, 2019, at 5:09 AM PDT
    • 4 likes
  16. Randy Weivoda Moderator

    Arahant (View Comment):

    Why is it even a federal issue?

    That’s the thing that really bothers me. If a state wants to raise the smoking age, I’m not going to get too worked up about it. But it grinds my gears every time the federal government imposes yet another law or regulation that is clearly outside their constitutional mandate. We’re supposed to be the party of limited government and our Senate majority leader is pushing this. I guess we only want a limit on federal authority when the federal government wants to do something we don’t like. 

    Randy Webster (View Comment):

    Bethany Mandel: We don’t have a smoking crisis. And yet, Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is, for some reason, backing legislation to raise the smoking age to 21, like we currently have for alcohol.

    If I recall correctly, the Feds didn’t pass a law making the drinking age 21; they threatened withholding federal funds from states that didn’t pass laws making the drinking age 21.

    Numerous states are defying federal law by allowing marijuana in their state. Good. What is funny to me is that not one single state has the guts to defy the federal government by lowering their drinking age.

    • #16
    • May 21, 2019, at 5:15 AM PDT
    • 7 likes
  17. Stina Member

    Randy Weivoda (View Comment):
    Numerous states are defying federal law by allowing marijuana in their state. Good. What is funny to me is that not one single state has the guts to defy the federal government by lowering their drinking age

    That’s interesting.

    I wonder if the control the law gives is useful in arbitrary enforcement – it is basically nullified as long as the drinking parties aren’t public nuisances but it is useful for quashing irresponsible and obnoxious behavior.

    • #17
    • May 21, 2019, at 5:21 AM PDT
    • Like
  18. Clifford A. Brown Contributor

    McConnell’s opposition to vaping comes from cigarette manufacturing and taxing interests. Follow the money. I appreciate the point about legislation further infantalizing “a generation with a foot already back in the cradle.” There is no smoking crisis, except for big cigarette manufacturers and the government’s hooked on sin taxes; “the kids are all right.”

    • #18
    • May 21, 2019, at 5:23 AM PDT
    • 4 likes
  19. Randy Webster Member

    Randy Weivoda (View Comment):
    Numerous states are defying federal law by allowing marijuana in their state. Good. What is funny to me is that not one single state has the guts to defy the federal government by lowering their drinking age.

    When the feds threatened to withhold highway funds if states didn’t raise the drinking age to 21, South Carolina held out for a while, saying they just wouldn’t maintain the interstates. But wiser heads eventually prevailed. It’d wreck your economy if you allowed the interstates to fall apart.

    • #19
    • May 21, 2019, at 6:29 AM PDT
    • 3 likes
  20. PHenry Member

    When will “small government” Republicans stop growing the nanny state and get the heck out of the decisions of adults? 18 is an adult. Its none of the governments daggone business. 

    • #20
    • May 21, 2019, at 7:05 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  21. Franco Member

    Mitch McConnel should be devoting his time to more pressing issues. I can’t wait till he dies. I say that because Senators won’t retire. Ever.

    • #21
    • May 21, 2019, at 8:03 AM PDT
    • Like
  22. Kozak Member

    So in San Francisco you can shoot heroin or meth in the street, but don’t you dare vape!

    • #22
    • May 21, 2019, at 8:14 AM PDT
    • 7 likes
  23. Randy Weivoda Moderator

    Randy Webster (View Comment):

    Randy Weivoda (View Comment):
    Numerous states are defying federal law by allowing marijuana in their state. Good. What is funny to me is that not one single state has the guts to defy the federal government by lowering their drinking age.

    When the feds threatened to withhold highway funds if states didn’t raise the drinking age to 21, South Carolina held out for a while, saying they just wouldn’t maintain the interstates. But wiser heads eventually prevailed. It’d wreck your economy if you allowed the interstates to fall apart.

    It would be interesting to find out how much money would be withheld from a given state if they lowered their drinking age. I don’t think the federal government withholds all of the funds, but some portion. So figure out how much a state would lose. Then find out how many gallons of taxable fuel are sold in an average year in that state so you could calculate how much the state would have to raise their gas tax to make up for it. If it’s a nickel or dime a gallon, I’d be willing to pay that to reclaim some state sovereignty.

    • #23
    • May 21, 2019, at 8:49 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  24. Stina Member

    Kozak (View Comment):

    So in San Francisco you can shoot heroin or meth in the street, but don’t you dare vape!

    Our priorities are a bit whacked. 

    • #24
    • May 21, 2019, at 11:25 AM PDT
    • Like
  25. Full Size Tabby Member

    I read in my local newspaper this morning that some national retail chains (WalMart and Walgreens were cited by name) are on their own raising the minimum age for tobacco purchases. So, if your objective is to make it harder for younger teens to obtain tobacco products, social pressure is getting you there. No need for a law. Sure, the social pressure won’t control the vape shops that I see around town, but you’re never going to eliminate completely access. So, take the result the market is giving you and don’t complicate everybody’s life with yet another set of laws and regulations. 

    • #25
    • May 21, 2019, at 11:41 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  26. Randy Weivoda Moderator

    9thDistrictNeighbor (View Comment):

    If you are a parent, you will agree that vaping is a tremendous public health crisis. Kids down to middle school age are vaping. Teens vape all sorts of substances. Vape pens are small and easily hidden. And whereas it takes a substantial amount of time to smoke a pack of cigarettes, kids can suck down a vape pen filled with nicotine (or pot, or whatever) very quickly…they do it to get a buzz. No one has any idea whether vaping is “safer.” But if you think that spraying an aerosol can directly into your lungs is a good idea, keep it away from my kid. Vape pens have caused a lot of heartache in this household. I support this legislation wholeheartedly.

    I’ll go along with you that stores should not be selling vaping equipment and supplies to middle schoolers. But it should be state legislators that outlaw middle school vaping, not the federal government. It’s none of Mitch McConnel’s business who is vaping or even smoking outside of Kentucky.

    • #26
    • May 21, 2019, at 1:08 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  27. Stad Thatcher

    Randy Weivoda (View Comment):
    What is funny to me is that not one single state has the guts to defy the federal government by lowering their drinking age.

    Wait until one of them figures out how much revenue 16-20 year-olds drinking will bring in . . .

    • #27
    • May 22, 2019, at 5:44 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  28. Randy Weivoda Moderator

    Stad (View Comment):

    Randy Weivoda (View Comment):
    What is funny to me is that not one single state has the guts to defy the federal government by lowering their drinking age.

    Wait until one of them figures out how much revenue 16-20 year-olds drinking will bring in . . .

    It’s a whole other topic as to what is the best way to bring youngsters into the world of alcohol in a responsible way. I understand that some European countries have a lot less trouble with youth binge drinking than we do and it’s not because of stricter laws. But I don’t want to sidetrack Bethany’s conversation into that right now.

    • #28
    • May 22, 2019, at 8:44 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  29. Stad Thatcher

    Randy Weivoda (View Comment):
    But I don’t want to sidetrack Bethany’s conversation into that right now.

    As a moderator, you shouldn’t. However, I’m perfectly willing!

    As a former teenager, it was the mystique, the thrill of sneaking a beer from the fridge that made drinking a brewski something desired. Other countries (Germany, IIRC) allow youths to drink a small amount, and not full strength. I know, because my parents actually let me – at age 14 – have a half-liter of beer in a Munich beer hall. For the record, it wasted me to the point I was unable to stage a putsch.

    By delaying legal consumption to 21, we’ve introduced the mystique to a whole range of people who tend to overconsume when they do get a hold of beer (nature’s most perfect food). If anything, we should lower the drinking age for beer, wine, and tobacco products back to 18, and raise the voting age to 25.

    • #29
    • May 23, 2019, at 4:53 AM PDT
    • 4 likes
  30. Allie Hahn Coolidge

    I teach in a middle school, and we just implemented a stronger anti-vaping policy for next year. It’s very concerning, but I don’t know that the answer is to raise the age to 21. As a libertarian-leaning conservative, that bothers me.

    • #30
    • May 31, 2019, at 6:45 PM PDT
    • 4 likes
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