Bill Seeks to Ban Online Sales of e-Cigarettes, Raise Age to Buy Tobacco to 21

Allison Inserro

Two Democratic members of Congress introduced a bill this week aimed at reversing the increase in vaping among children and teenagers by raising the minimum purchasing age for all tobacco products to 21 years old, among other things. The Reversing the Youth Tobacco Epidemic Act of 2019 would also ban all flavored tobacco products, including menthol cigarettes, and prohibit all online sales of e-cigarettes and accessories.

The American Public Health Association (APHA) cheered the introduction of the bill, calling it  “a major step to address tobacco use.”

The bill was introduced by Energy and Commerce Chairman Frank Pallone Jr, D-New Jersey, and Representative Donna Shalala, D-Florida, who served as HHS secretary during the Clinton administration. Shalala said during her tenure at HHS that they “made great strides in holding tobacco companies accountable for marketing their products to kids, and we reduced the number of people who smoked cigarettes. But now, the use of e-cigarettes, particularly by children, is beginning to undo years of progress we have made.”

The FDA and the CDC has reported a 78% increase in current e-cigarette use by high school students and a 48% increase among middle school students from 2017 to 2018.

In seeking a ban of e-cigarettes online and raising the smoking age to 21, the bill goes further than the FDA had proposed under former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, MD. The new commissioner, Ned Sharpless, said this week he is committed to the same fight against youth vaping.

At different points during his tenure, Gottlieb had threatened to take the products off the market, but he decided he did not want to go so far that adults who are trying to quit combustible cigarettes discover the electronic devices are too hard to find. For now, the FDA is seeking to force retailers to sell certain flavors of e-cigarettes in age-restricted sections of retail stores.

The advocacy group Campaign for Tobaco-Free Kids had said the FDA proposal is a good beginning, but it does not go far enough. It endorsed the Pallone–Shalala bill this week.

The bill:
Besides the APHA and Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, other organizations supporting the bill are the American Lung Association, American Thoracic Society, March of Dimes, the National African American Tobacco Prevention Network. the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, American College of Cardiology, American Heart Association, and the American Academy of Pediatrics.
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