There is no doubt that more must be done to reduce the number of youths in Kentucky and across the country, for that matter, who use tobacco or vaping devices.

Each year, more young people become hooked on nicotine, and sadly more people will die from diseases such as cancer and heart disease related to tobacco use. It is a public health crisis, and it’s clear something has to be done to lower the number of youths who have access to cigarettes and other nicotine-related devices.

U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has come up with a plan that could make it much harder for teenagers to get access to cigarettes and other types of nicotine-related devices. On Monday, McConnell introduced a bill that he co-sponsored with U.S. Sen. Time Kaine, D-Va., to raise the federal age for purchasing tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, to 21. The bill comes amid growing concerns about youth use of e-cigarettes, which reached record levels in 2018. That marked a troubling reversal of declines in smoking traditional cigarettes.

The logic behind increasing the smoking age to 21 is that high school students are likely to know someone who is 18 who can legally purchase tobacco, but they are less likely to have friends who are 21. The bill would make it illegal under federal law for retailers to sell tobacco products to anyone under age 21, and would essentially require states to enact their own laws raising the tobacco-purchasing age to 21 or risk not getting federal substance abuse grants starting in fiscal year 2021.

McConnell’s legislation would not exempt military members.

While we believe that McConnell’s and Kaine’s hearts are in the right place, we believe this is a matter that states can handle on their own without the “big brother” of federal government getting involved. A growing number of state legislatures have been moving in this direction, with six state laws going into effect in July and two more in 2020 and 2021, bringing the total to 14.

These numbers show that states are well suited to make their own decisions and that more will follow their lead in the coming years. Another area we take issue with regarding this legislation is the choice not to exempt military members. Is it fair to tell a soldier who is under 21 that they may put themselves in harm’s way but they won’t be allowed to smoke?

We think not.

We believe McConnell and Kaine need to revisit legislation and make some tweaks to it. While we support the effort to do something about the rising number of youths smoking and vaping, the solution shouldn’t come from the long arm of the federal government telling states what to do, and it shouldn’t involve telling soldiers under 21 who could be killed in combat that they can’t smoke if that’s what they choose to do.


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