Cocaine Mitch to raise federal smoking age?

Andrew Malcolm wrote this morning about the news that Mitch McConnell was endorsing a move to support raising the minimum age for tobacco use to 21 across the nation. The Tobacco-Free Youth Act, as it’s being called, would make it illegal to sell a tobacco product to any person under 21 years old in all states. States not in compliance with their own, matching minimum age law would be subject to losing federal funding for a variety of addiction and substance abuse programs. McConnell appears to be framing his argument primarily around what’s being described as an epidemic of teenage vaping of nicotine products.

McConnell said smoking should be part of a national debate about children’s health.

“We’ve heard from countless parents who have seen the youth vaping crisis firsthand,” McConnell said in a statement. “…Together, Senator Kaine and I are addressing this public health crisis head-on. By making it more difficult for tobacco products to end up in the hands of middle school and high school students, we can protect our children and give them the opportunity to grow and develop into healthy adults.”

Kentucky and West Virginia have the highest rates of deaths caused by smoking, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

There’s definitely been a cultural change taking place when it comes to tobacco products and nicotine, driven by the growing popularity of vaping. Some of these changes have been positive, such as the ability of traditional cigarette smokers to wean themselves off of tobacco using vaping and at least in some cases kick the habit entirely. Those who can’t are at least taking in fewer harmful chemicals than they were when inhaling the smoke from burning plants.

What I didn’t anticipate was the surge in people – particularly teenagers – who were not previously cigarette smokers but took up vaping and became addicted to nicotine. That seems perplexing to me, but we’ve seen enough reports by now to conclude that it’s happening. This is obviously not a desirable outcome.

And yet, this proposed bill remains troubling to me for a different reason. I wrote about this back in April and I’ve yet to see a compelling argument to dismiss several concerns. We generally set legal age limits describing when a person is typically considered “an adult” and becomes responsible for their own actions. But that’s usually done at the state level and those age limits vary from place to place.

If you’re not responsible enough to make a decision (even if it’s a really horrible decision) regarding alcohol or tobacco use until you are 21, how is that you’re responsible enough to go fight our nation’s wars, get married or drive a car when you’re 18 or even younger in many cases? There’s an argument to be made when it comes to enlisting in the military, but that’s because the states can’t set the age limits in that case. But all of the other situations can be handled on a state-by-state basis.

There’s far too much inconsistency. If we want to take this level of control away from the states and establish a national age of adulthood, that’s a discussion we can have. (I’d be against it, but I know others who might support it.) But if we’re not doing that, then let the states set the minimum age as they do now.