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Karl W. Smith

Big Tobacco Is Morphing Into Big Vape

Why Altria and Juul support Mitch McConnell’s call to raise the minimum age for tobacco products to 21.

Forecast: Cloudy with profits.

Forecast: Cloudy with profits.

Photographer: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said last week he plans to introduce a bill raising the minimum age for tobacco products from 18 to 21. This is a peculiar turn of events: McConnell’s home state of Kentucky is a major tobacco-producing state, and Republicans aren’t typically eager to regulate business.

What’s going on? The key to understanding McConnell’s proposal is its endorsement by Altria Group Inc., the largest tobacco producer in the U.S. And the key to understanding Altria’s endorsement is its $12.8 billion stake in Juul Labs Inc., the largest player in the vaping industry.