Washington’s year-end spending deal has included a measure that lifts the age for buying tobacco products to 21 from 18, but one prominent anti-tobacco group is issuing warnings this week about the development, rather than celebrating a victory.
Raising the buying age nationwide for all tobacco products, including electronic cigarettes, is a “positive step,” but it could take attention away from efforts to ban flavored e-cigarettes that are popular with children, said the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids in a statement.
“Juul and Altria have hijacked the tobacco 21 issue for their own nefarious reasons as a shield to fight efforts to prohibit flavored e-cigarettes,” the group added. “It is deeply disappointing that the budget agreement gives these tobacco companies what they want without addressing the crisis caused by flavored e-cigarettes.”
Tobacco giant Altria Group Inc. MO, +1.11% and vaping heavyweight Juul Labs Inc. (in which Altria has a 35% stake) didn’t respond to requests for comment. An Altria spokesman earlier this year told MarketWatch that raising the purchasing age for all tobacco products, including e-vapor, is “the most effective action to reverse rising underage e-vapor usage rates.”
The two companies and other tobacco-industry players have repeatedly voiced their support for measures that raise the tobacco-buying age to 21. One “Tobacco 21” bill that they supported was criticized earlier this year by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids for giving the industry a way to weaken state and local efforts to reduce tobacco use, but a campaign spokesman said this week that the measure included in the spending deal doesn’t have that loophole.
The Trump administration in September announced a crackdown on e-cigarettes in an effort to combat the youth vaping epidemic, with one official tweeting at the time that the goal was to “clear flavored e-cigarettes from the market.” However, President Donald Trump has since held off on banning most flavored e-cigarettes, as staff from his re-election campaign warned that vapers in battleground states could abandon him, while other allies cautioned against limiting adults’ ability to pick safer alternatives to smoking. While a ban hasn’t materialized, Juul has voluntarily stopped selling most of its flavored e-cigarettes, including mint. But it still has drawn criticism for continuing to sell the menthol flavor.
“Tobacco 21” bills have been the legislation that both Altria and Juul have lobbied on the most this year, according to an analysis of disclosures from the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics. Altria has...