April 18 (UPI) -- Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell on Thursday said he plans to introduce legislation increasing the minimum age to purchase tobacco products from 18 to 21.
The senator from Kentucky said the legislation would include vaping devices, as well as more traditional products like cigarettes and chewing tobacco.
"For some time, I've been hearing from the parents who are seeing an unprecedented spike in vaping among their teenage children," McConnell said. "In addition, we all know people who started smoking at a young age and who struggled to quit as adults. Unfortunately, it's reaching epidemic levels around the country."
He made the announcement during a new conference in Louisville, Ky., with Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky CEO and President Ben Chandler, and state Sen. Julie Raque Adams and state Rep. Kim Moser, both Republicans.
Twelve states have such a law on the books -- Arkansas, California, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Oregon, Utah, Virginia and Washington. McConnell said his bill would include an exemption for people who serve in uniform.
He said he expects the legislation to pass quickly through Congress.
"I hope and expect this legislation to get strong bipartisan support in the Senate," he said. "As you know, I'm in a particularly good position to enact legislation and this will be a top priority."
A study released earlier this month found that cutting smoking in each state by 1 percent in a year would lower the cost to taxpayer-supported Medicaid by $2.6 billion the following year.