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

From left, Reps. Kristine Lytton, House Majority Leader Pat Sullivan, Timm Ormsby, and June Robinson announce the House Democrats’ budget proposal. <em>Photo by Josh Kelety </em>
Democratic lawmakers unveil conflicting budget proposals

Senate and House Democrats are at odds over education funding and how to cut property taxes.

Inslee and outrage

After the election of President Trump, many in Seattle and its surrounding communities let their anger be heard. Gov. Jay Inslee was one of them.

Domestic violence survivors could get new protections from workplace discrimination

The proposed bill easily passed the House of Representatives.

Photo by Visitor7/Wikimedia
Proposal to eliminate the death penalty passes the Senate

After passionate floor debate, the bill moves to the House.

Photo by Visitor7/Wikimedia
A fight over the role of unions erupts in Olympia

State Democrats push labor union-friendly bills while Republicans cry foul play.

John Kerry in Olympia to advocate for governor’s carbon tax

Former U.S. Secretary of State said “Washington has an opportunity to lead.”

Photo by Kathryn Decker/Flickr
State legislators look to “ban the box”

The House of Representatives votes to end questioning criminal history on job applications.

By Nicole Jennings
Bill expanding wrongful death actions passes the Senate

The bill would do away with a law that opponents say is antiquated and xenophobic.

Photo by Visitor7/Wikimedia
Program before lawmakers could strengthen mental health crisis response

The aim is to provide those in need with services instead of jail time.

Carbon tax plan advances in the state Senate

Bill moves out of committee with lower tax rate than governor proposed, a “monumental step.”

Light rail funding could be in trouble if car tab taxes decrease. Photo by Richard Eriksson/Flickr
Republican lawmakers call for further action on car tabs

Senate Democrat slams their efforts as “unthoughtful sledgehammers.”

Photo by Nicole Jennings
Proposed law would make tampons free for some college students

The bill would ensure that those with low incomes can have access to clean products, say proponents.