McConnell introduces bill to raise minimum tobacco use age to 21

WASHINGTON (AP) — Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said Monday he is introducing legislation to raise the minimum smoking age from 18 to 21. Kentucky was long one of the nation’s leading tobacco producers.

The chamber’s top Republican is releasing his proposal at a time when the use of e-cigarettes is growing and underage vaping has soared, raising concerns by health experts. If it becomes law, McConnell’s bill would apply to tobacco products, e-cigarettes and vapor products.

“Youth vaping is a public health crisis,” said McConnell, who was introducing the bill with Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia. Kaine’s state has also been a major tobacco producer.

Kentucky’s cancer rate has been among the nation’s highest. The state’s farmers have been turning away from tobacco and increasingly growing industrial hemp, a product that McConnell helped legalize.

“Kentucky farmers don’t want their children to get hooked on tobacco products while they’re in middle school or high school any more than any parents anywhere want that to happen,” McConnell said on the Senate floor.

McConnell said it’s up to parents and public officials to keep these products “out of high schools and out of youth culture.”

WATCH: McConnell’s speech introducing the bill: