Senate Health and Long Term Care Committee members, from left: Senators Karen Keiser, Patty Kuderer, Annette Cleveland, and Ann Rivers. Photo by Taylor McAvoy

Senate Health and Long Term Care Committee members, from left: Senators Karen Keiser, Patty Kuderer, Annette Cleveland, and Ann Rivers. Photo by Taylor McAvoy

Lawmakers consider a bill to raise the legal tobacco age

The bill has support from Attorney General Bob Ferguson.

Washington state lawmakers are considering a bill that could raise the legal age to purchase any nicotine product from 18 to 21 years old.

SB 6048, sponsored by Senator Patty Kuderer, D-Redmond, was heard on Monday, Jan. 22 by request of Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson.

“No bill in Olympia this session will save more lives than increasing the legal smoking age to 21,” Ferguson said.

He was careful to mention that this bill would not criminalize youth who already possess tobacco or vape products; it would only disallow them from buying more. He also said five states have passed similar legislation.

Secretary of Health John Wiesman said just two years can make a significant difference, citing a study from the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies analysing states with legal tobacco ages at 18, 19, and 21 years old. The study demonstrated that states that raised the legal tobacco age from 18 to 21 were more effective at reducing the rates of teen smokers than states that raised the legal age to just 19.

This, he said, is because most teens who are under 18 years old buy tobacco from their older friends and family. Raising the legal age would increase the gap between the age group that is most at risk—15- to 17-year-olds— according to the study.

Wiesman thinks this bill is crucial to public health because teen brains are still developing. Those who start smoking at 15 to 17 years old will find it much harder to quit as adults.

Lieutenant Colonel Matthew Cooper of the Washington National Guard said that raising the legal smoking age is critical to the National Guard. He said more than 33 percent of current members smoke, which makes them less fit and less combat ready.

Mark Johnson, speaking for the Washington Retail Association, said small convenience stores will take a substantial hit because they lose customers for tobacco and other services. He said people will simply go elsewhere

Larry Stewart, executive director of the Washington Association of Neighborhood Stores, supports prevention of underage tobacco use, but does not support raising the legal age to 21. He called for a halt to the bill until tribal smoke shops, casinos, and border states increase their legal age to 21.

He said that 18 is the age of adulthood.

“What does it mean from a policy perspective to treat a person who is required to pay taxes, allowed to vote, and serve in the military, as not capable of making a full range of choices traditionally associated with adulthood,” he said.

This report was produced by the Olympia bureau of the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association.

More in Northwest

Photo courtesy of Neelam Chahlia 
                                Redmond’s Neelam Chahlia crowned as Mrs. Washington America and competing for the national Mrs. America title on Aug. 26.
Redmond’s Chahlia to compete for Mrs. America 2020 title

Mrs. Washington America winner says her journey embodies the ‘American Dream.’

Spring Chinook salmon. Photo courtesy Michael Humling, US Fish and Wildlife Service
State awards millions for salmon recovery

Puget Sound counties received more than $45 million.

PSE’s battery storage project could help the clean energy rollout

Tiny pilot project in Glacier could eventually be expanded to Puget Sound region.

King County Correctional Facility is located at 500 5th Ave., Seattle. File photo
King County jail’s leaky pipes have national implications

Lawsuit filed in King County Superior Court alleges Aquatherm has been selling faulty pipes.

VoteWA is a $9.5 million program that came online last May and is meant to unify all 39 county voting systems in the state into a single entity. Courtesy image
WA’s new voting system concerns county elections officials

VoteWA has run into some problems in recent months as the Aug. 6 primary election draws closer.

‘Feedback loops’ of methane, CO2 echo environmental problem beyond Washington

University of Washington among researchers of climate change’s effects in global temperatures.

Courtesy photo
King County Sheriff’s Office has been giving ICE unredacted information

Both the office and jail have supplied the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.

Mukilteo schools may soon have state’s highest paid teachers

Teachers ratified a new contract Monday and the Board of Education will consider it next month.

Among 9 other candidates, Inslee gets his 6 minutes of fame

Here’s what the governor, a longshot presidential candidate, said in Miami Wednesday night.

What’s next for Washington’s 2045 green energy goal?

The Legislature set the goal, but how does the state actually get there?

Tasting room proposal could redefine alcohol production in King County

Pilot program would benefit wineries, breweries and distilleries. Several farmers are concerned.

Climbers rescued after days on Rainier

Several rescue attempts went awry, thanks to bad weather and flying conditions.