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Donald Trump signed a sweeping bill Friday that includes raising the legal smoking age from 18 to 21 for both cigarettes and vapes.
The bipartisan legislation, supported by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, was attached to a package of must-pass spending bills that will keep the government running into next year.
Trump approved the two spending bills for a total of $1.4 trillion, including the new defense spending bill in a public ceremony at Joint Base Andrews. The civilian spending bill was signed aboard Air Force One as he traveled to his Mar-a-Lago resort, where he will be celebrating Christmas and New Year's.
A crackdown on youth smoking, by changing the minimum age for cigarette and other tobacco purchases to 21 from the current 18, would give the U.S. Food and Drug Administration six months to develop regulations.
The agency would then have three years to work with states on implementing the change.
Trump tweeted Friday: 'I will be signing our 738 Billion Dollar Defense Spending Bill today. It will include 12 weeks Paid Parental Leave, gives our troops a raise, importantly creates the SPACE FORCE, SOUTHERN BORDER WALL FUNDING, repeals “Cadillac Tax” on Health Plans, raises smoking age to 21! BIG!'
President Trump is photographed signing the defense portion of the spending package
The civilian spending bill was signed aboard Air Force One as he traveled to his Mar-a-Lago resort, where he will be celebrating Christmas and New Year's
Trump tweeted Friday calling the move to raise the smoking age to 21 'BIG'
In a step long-sought by health advocates the legislation would raise the minimum age to purchase all tobacco products, including electronic cigarettes, from 18 to 21 nationwide.
It was co-authored by lawmakers Brian Schatz and Dick Durbin, both Democrats, and Republicans Mitt Romney and Todd Young, CNN reports.
Two unlikely backers, Marlboro-cigarette maker Altria and vaping giant Juul Labs, have emerged as the biggest supporters of the measure, blanketing Capitol Hill with lobbyists and advertisements touting their support for a national 'Tobacco 21' law.
Juul and Altria — the vaping company's biggest investor — threw their support behind the bill earlier this year amid a backlash against e-cigarettes at the local, state and national levels.
Tobacco critics contend the companies' support is calculated to head off even harder-hitting government action: a ban on all flavored tobacco products, including fruit and dessert e-cigarettes.
President Donald Trump signed off on nearly $1.4 trillion in spending that will keep the government funded through September 30, dodging the possibility of a shutdown ahead of what's expected to be a contentious election season.
The two bills signed on Friday will allocate $1.4 trillion: $738 billion to the military and $632 billion to non-defense agencies, marking increases over fiscal 2019 of $22 billion for the Pentagon and $27 billion for non-defense.
The spending measures, which will add roughly $400 billion to the deficit over 10 years, include money for the president's U.S.-Mexico border fence, pay raises for military and civilian federal workers, and federal funding for election security grants.
The package includes $1.4 billion for barriers along the U.S.-Mexico border, the same amount lawmakers approved last year.
That amount far less than the $8.6 billion initially demanded by Trump, the fight over which led to the longest government shutdown in U.S. history earlier this year.
The package includes an average 3.1 percent pay raise for federal civilian workers and military members.
The massive spending measures were made public earlier this week and marked a note of bipartisanship just days after House Democrats impeached Trump.
It headed off a repeat of last year's end-of-the-year impasse that led to a 35-day partial government shutdown. heir stance puts them in the unusual position of criticizing a move they long supported, arguing that the sales restriction isn't enough.
'Altria and Juul clearly support this in order to argue that no other action is necessary,' said Matthew Myers of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.
Current federal law prohibits sales of e-cigarettes and all other tobacco products to those under 18.
But more than one in four high school students report vaping regularly, according to the latest government figures. And health officials have called the vaping trend an 'epidemic.'
Until September, Juul 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.
Altria, the nation's largest tobacco company, said it supports a 'clean' Tobacco 21 bill — focused exclusively on raising the age limit — because it is the 'quickest and most effective' way to address the recent surge in teen vaping.
For decades previously, Altria and other tobacco companies aggressively defended the 18-year-old minimum purchase age.
Juul has similarly supported legislation that raises the purchase age without touching flavors. And while the companies say they lobby separately, both quickly backed the Tobacco 21 bill introduced in May by McConnell and Virginia Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine.
The companies' support sapped attention away from other proposals that would have gone much further.
The logic for hiking the purchase age for cigarettes is clear: most underage teens who use tobacco get it from older friends. An estimated 90 percent of smokers start before age 18.
Most underage teens who use tobacco get it from older friends. An estimated 90 percent of smokers start before age 18. More than a third of U.S. states have already raised their minimum purchase age to 21
Delaying access to cigarettes is expected to produce major downstream health benefits, with one government-funded report estimating nearly 250,000 fewer deaths due to tobacco over several decades.
Still, anti-tobacco experts say age restrictions are only effective when they are vigorously enforced, and tobacco sales can fall through the cracks amid a patchwork of local, state and federal law enforcement. They point to underage drinking as an example of the limited impact of age-based restrictions.
State laws banning tobacco sales to those under 18 evolved over several decades and were reinforced by a federal law in 2009.
The same law banned all flavors from traditional cigarettes except menthol, which received a special exception at the behest of tobacco lobbyists.
More than a third of U.S. states — including California, Illinois, New York and Texas — and the District of Columbia have already raised their minimum purchase age to 21.
Anti-smoking groups have tracked the trend with measured support, noting the role of Juul and Altria lobbyists behind many of the efforts.