Addressing Youth Tobacco Concerns

February 28, 2020
Weekly Columns

Over the decades, government leaders have handed down various decisions about what people can and cannot do before certain ages. For example, young people can’t drive before 16, vote until 18, or buy alcohol before 21. Now we’re starting to see a surge in unsafe tobacco products form addictions in youth, and I’m encouraged to see this administration taking action to curb systemic issues. Unfortunately, H.R. 2339, U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone’s (D-N.J.) “Reversing the Youth Tobacco Epidemic Act of 2019,” is not the answer we need, for several reasons.

H.R. 2339 has a misleading name – it does nothing to address youth vaping or the recent increase in youth tobacco use. Instead, the bill attempts to restrict access to products like menthol e-liquids, which can provide less harmful alternatives to adults smoking combustible cigarettes. Evidence shows that youth usage of these products is relatively low, so the bill could potentially implement a sweeping product restriction without even affecting those the bill is supposed to be helping.

I’m also concerned by the bill’s provision that would prohibit product marketing and advertising that “appeals to an individual under 21 years of age.” This vague standard may not meet stringent tests, as laid out by the Constitution’s Due Process Clause.

For these and other reasons, I voted against H.R. 2339 when it came to the floor. I support measures to crack down on a youth tobacco epidemic, and we’ve already seen positive changes in the past year. President Trump signed legislation raising the tobacco purchasing age to 21, the House unanimously passed legislation requiring age verification by retailers to prevent online e-cigarette sales to minors, and the Food and Drug Administration began conducting regular surveillance. We can continue these positive steps without veering into unconstitutional government oversight, which is what H.R. 2330 aims to do.