Listen Live

(WASHINGTON, D.C.) – A coming legislative debate over raising the smoking age to 21 appears over before it begins.

The spending deal to keep the federal government operating for the next nine months raises the minimum age to buy tobacco to 21 nationally. 19 states had already taken that step on their own, and  Governor Holcomb had announced plans to make an age-21 bill one of his priorities in the upcoming legislative session.

Indiana Senator Todd Young’s office says the spending bill technically doesn’t force states to change their laws. But it makes states responsible for enforcing the new federal threshold of 21. They’d have to spend at least one penny of every dollar they get in federal drug abuse grants to conduct spot checks of retailers. States which don’t enforce the limit risk losing federal money.

Young (R) calls the change “perhaps the most important public health measure achievable in this political atmosphere.” He says reducing the number of people who start smoking early will mean fewer people start smoking at all. He says that will reduce health costs and increase productivity.

Young  boasts he was among the first to push for raising the age, even before growing alarm over teenage vaping and deaths linked to e-cigarettes increased momentum for action. Young had authored a bill with Hawaii Democrat Brian Schatz to withhold federal funding from states which didn’t raise the age. 

Once President Trump signs the bill, it’ll take another nine months for the restriction to take effect. 

(Photo: Marc Bruxelle/Thinkstock)