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.
You can die for your country at 18, but you can't smoke until you're 21. https://t.co/RfizTwh5hs
— Emily Zanotti (@emzanotti) May 20, 2019