The times they are a changing, like the saying goes. A new bill that woukd raise the legal age for buying tobacco from 18 to 21 in the U.S. was included as part of Congress’s year-end spending bill. But like the other saying goes: the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Some anti-tobacco groups find the bill a little suspicious, in particular its support from tobacco giant Altria. The behemoth owns a league of popular brands including Marlboro, Skoal, and Nat Sherman. It also owns a 35% stake in the vape pen company Juul, which has also lent support the smoking bill.

Altria has said that it’s endorsement of the bill is motivated by public health. One Altria spokesperson told MarketWatchthat raising the legal age for buying tobacco products is “the most effective action to reverse rising underage e-vapor usage rates.”

But the anti-tobacco group Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids sees an ulterior motive in raising the legal age, namely a diversion from laws against flavored tobacco, which they believe would be even more damaging to big tobacco.

“Juul and Altria have hijacked the tobacco 21 issue for their own nefarious reasons as a shield to fight efforts to prohibit flavored e-cigarettes,” the group said in a statement. “It is deeply disappointing that the budget agreement gives these tobacco companies what they want without addressing the crisis caused by flavored e-cigarettes.”

If the group is right, this would not be the first time that Altria got caught with its hand in the cookie jar. The company has previously been found guilty of civil fraud and racketeering.

Photo via Flickr/Lucian Belviso

Natalie