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Congress raising legal tobacco age to 21

NASHUA – After months of public debate about potential $100 fines, Nashua Board of Aldermen members in May voted 7-6 against a measure to raise the city’s legal age to purchase or use nicotine from 18 to 21.

Tuesday, the Democratic-controlled U.S. House of Representatives – as one provision in an extensive $1.4 trillion spending package intended to avert a government shutdown – approved hiking the legal tobacco age to 21 at the federal level.

The bipartisan legislation, supported by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, has been attached to a package of must-pass spending bills that will keep the government running into next year.

“Since I introduced my legislation earlier this year to raise the minimum nationwide purchase age for tobacco products from 18 to 21, stories of vaping related illnesses and death, especially among young people, have stunned Kentucky and the nation,” McConnell said regarding action by the House. “It is because of my position as a tobacco state Senator that I introduced this bill, and it is because of my role as Senate Majority Leader that it will become law.”

The White House said Tuesday that President Donald Trump will sign the measure.

“The president is poised to sign it and to keep the government open,” said top White House adviser Kellyanne Conway.

According to the legislation, the legal age to buy these products would go from 18 to 21:

• Traditional cigarettes,

• E-cigarettes,

• Juul pods,

• Cigars, and

• Snuff, dip or chew, such as Skoal or Beech-Nut.

Altria Group is the parent company of Philip Morris, America’s largest tobacco firm and maker of the famous Marlboro cigarettes.

“Altria is committed to being part of the solution. In addition to our long-standing efforts, we’re advocating for legislation to raise the minimum age for all tobacco products to 21. We believe this is the most effective step available to reverse rising underage e-vapor rates,” Altria states on its website.

E-cigarettes are battery-powered devices that typically heat a flavored nicotine solution into an inhalable aerosol. Current federal law prohibits sales of e-cigarettes and all other tobacco products to those under 18. But health officials have called the vaping trend an “epidemic.”

Until September, vaping giant Juul Labs argued that its sweet flavors — including mango, mint and fruit — could help adult smokers switch from traditional cigarettes to vaping. But the company dropped that message as President Donald Trump announced plans to remove virtually all vaping flavors from the market, due to their appeal to children. The Silicon Valley company has halted sales of all but two of its flavors, menthol and tobacco, and pledged not to oppose Trump’s plan.

As part of the New Hampshire budget compromise that passed with members of the state’s General Court earlier this year, the age to buy such products in New Hampshire will go up from 18 to 19 on Jan. 1.

Some Granite State communities have already taken it upon themselves to increase the legal tobacco age, including Dover, Keene and Newmarket to raise the age to 21. Some states have also enacted similar laws raising the age to 21, including Massachusetts to the city’s south.

The logic for hiking the purchase age for nicotine is clear: most underage teens who use tobacco get it from older friends. An estimated 90 percent of smokers start before age 18.

In Nashua, earlier this year, nearly 50% of high school students reported at least trying a vaping product. According to an academic health class survey that was conducted back in the spring, 22.5% of youth said they had vaped within 30 days.

BORDER WALL FUNDS ALSO IN BILL

According to the Associated Press, the bill also gave Trump a victory on his U.S.-Mexico border fence.

The hard-fought legislation also funds a record Pentagon budget and is serving as a must-pass legislative locomotive to tow an unusually large haul of unrelated provisions into law, including an expensive repeal of Obama-era taxes on high-cost health plans and help for retired coal miners.

The House first passed a measure funding domestic programs on a 297-120 vote. But one-third of the Democrats defected on a 280-138 vote on the second bill, which funds the military and the Department of Homeland Security, mostly because it funds Trump’s border wall project.

The spending legislation would forestall a government shutdown this weekend and give Trump steady funding for his U.S.-Mexico border fence. The year-end package is anchored by a $1.4 trillion spending measure that caps a difficult, months-long battle over spending priorities.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., was a driving force, along with administration pragmatists such as Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who negotiated the summertime budget deal that it implements.

The roster add-ons to the huge spending bill grew during the weekend to include permanent repeal of a tax on high-cost “Cadillac” health insurance benefits and a hard-won provision to finance health care and pension benefits for about 100,000 retired union coal miners threatened by the insolvency of their pension fund. A tax on medical devices and health insurance plans would also be repealed permanently.

The deficit tab for the package grew as well with the addition of $428 billion in tax cuts through 10 years to repeal the three so-called “Obamacare” taxes, extend expiring tax breaks.

The legislation is laced with provisions reflecting divided power in Washington. Republicans maintained the status quo on several abortion-related battles and on funding for Trump’s border wall. Democrats controlling the House succeeded in winning a 3.1% raise for federal civilian employees and the first installment of funding on gun violence research after more than two decades of gun lobby opposition.

Late Monday, negotiators unveiled a scaled-back $39 billion package of additional business tax breaks, renewing tax breaks for craft brewers and distillers, among others.

Democrats also secured $425 million for states to upgrade their election systems, and they boosted the U.S. Census budget $1.4 billion above Trump’s request. They won smaller increases for the Environmental The outcome in the latest chapter in the longstanding battle over Trump’s border wall awards Trump with $1.4 billion for new barriers — equal to last year’s appropriation — while preserving Trump’s ability to use his budget powers to tap other accounts for several times that amount. That’s a blow for liberal opponents of the wall but an acceptable trade-off for pragmatic-minded Democrats who wanted to gain $27 billion in increases for domestic programs.

The coal miners’ pension provision, opposed by House GOP conservatives such as Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., had the backing of Trump and McConnell, in addition to Democrats such as Pelosi and U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va.

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