A new law has been passed that raises the age required to buy cigarettes, e-cigarettes and other tobacco and nicotine products to 21. Interestingly, this change was included in a government spending package, which keeps the government running to the tune of $1.4 trillion from the US Treasury.
Another part of the bill included some $1.4 billion to pay for a border wall between the US and Mexico, despite such a provision being overwhelmingly unpopular among taxpayers.
Despite the border wall proviso, the spending package still received bipartisan support from Congress. This could likely have been influenced by the $25 million guaranteed to go to gun violence research, though some commentators have seen the bill’s passage as a surprising cave for Democrats in Congress.
Others have noted that the bipartisan backing for the spending bill could have been an effort by Democrats to appear as though they’re willing to “compromise,” and aren’t simply acting as obstructionists. However, such obtrusive tactics have long been favored by Republicans like Mitch McConnell, who famously refused to hear Barack Obama’s appointee for the Supreme Court, defying constitutional norms.
Nineteen states, as well as Washington DC, have already raised their tobacco buying age to 21 up from the federally-mandated 18. However, with the new proviso in the spending package, it is now illegal to sell tobacco products to anyone under 21 in the US. The FDA quickly updated their website to reflect this, and the new law went into effect on December 20.
This means that any retailer that sells tobacco must now abide by the new law or face serious fines and penalties. The passage of the law, which was carefully hidden within a spending package, caught many eighteen to twenty-year-old voters off-guard, as they suddenly found themselves in limbo. People who legally bought a pack of cigarettes a few weeks ago are now forbidden from doing so.
Many have noted that this will likely not cause any fewer people to smoke, and instead will simply lead to an increase in the number of people smoking illegally. Others have pointed out how unusual it is that this change is coming years after the era when roughly one-third of teens were smoking; research shows that smoking among teens is at an all-time low for the US.