JOHNSTON — The Republican leader in the Iowa Senate predicts the 2020 Iowa legislature will likely raise the legal age for buying and possessing tobacco and e-cigarette products from 18 to 21.

“We’re at a unique period that we’ve never really been at where almost everyone across the board is in favor of raising it to 21, including the tobacco companies. They’ve never had that position,” Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver of Ankeny said during taping of Iowa Public Television’s “Iowa Press” program that will be broadcast this Friday.

Whitver said legislators are hearing from constituents who are scared about the growing “vaping” problem in Iowa high schools and middle schools.

“That’s a real issue and a serious issue,” Whitver said. “If we can raise it to 21, we think that might have a shot to eliminating the vaping that’s occuring in our schools.”

Last spring, near the end of the 2019 legislative session, the president of the senate unveiled a bill to raise the legal age for purchasing tobacco products, including the pods used for “vaping” with an e-cigarette. Whitver said that initial discussion has laid the groundwork for action in 2020.

Public health officials say there have been 49 cases in Iowa of respiratory problems linked to vaping. All but 10 of those cases involved the use of vaping and e-cigarette products that illegally contained THC, the active ingredient in marijuana. No vaping-related deaths have been reported in Iowa.