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Washington AG continues bipartisan push to raise tobacco sale age to 21

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OLYMPIA — Attorney General Bob Ferguson will continue his push to raise the legal age to purchase tobacco and vapor products to 21 tomorrow before the House Health Care & Wellness Committee.

The Attorney General will testify on House Bill 1054 at the committee’s hearing beginning at 8 a.m. on Tuesday. Ferguson’s proposal is in its third year with bipartisan support.

According a 2014 survey by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, about 95 percent of adult tobacco users start using before they turn 21. Ending legal tobacco purchases by the key 18-to-20 demographic, which includes older high-schoolers, will make it more difficult for all teens to get started on a path to lifelong addition. Studies show that 90 percent of those who purchase tobacco products for youth are themselves under 21.

A 2015 Institute of Medicine report found that, if the tobacco sale age were raised to 21 nationwide, the largest reduction in smoking would be among 15 to 17 year olds. It also concluded that raising the sale age of tobacco would result in 249,000 fewer premature deaths and 45,000 fewer deaths from lung cancer in children born between 2000 and 2019.

“Washington state has long been front and center in the fight to protect kids from the dangers of smoking,” Ferguson said. “It is past time to pass this proposal into law.”

Ferguson’s proposal would make Washington the third state to raise the legal tobacco sale age to 21, joining Hawaii and California. More than 200 local jurisdictions nationwide have also passed laws raising the sale age to 21, including New York City, Boston, Chicago, and Cleveland.

Rep. Paul Harris, R-Vancouver, has introduced the House version of the Attorney General-request bill. Sen. Mark Miloscia, R-Federal Way, has sponsored the legislation in the Senate, this year as Senate Bill 5025, for the last three years.

A total of 47 legislators from both parties have signed on to support the bills.

“Stopping smoking saves lives,” said Sen. Miloscia, chair of the Senate State Government Committee. “The research is clear that many smokers become addicted between the ages of 18 and 21. Simply increasing the smoking age to this milestone will have a significant and long-lasting effect on the number of addicted smokers, saving lives and driving down healthcare costs.”

“It’s so incredibly important to keep the influence of cigarettes out of our high schools,” Rep. Harris said. “The positive impacts to the health of our kids simply can’t be overstated.”

Ferguson’s legislation enjoys broad public support. A December 2015 Elway Research poll showed an overwhelming 65 percent of Washingtonians support raising the sale age of tobacco to 21.

The poll, commissioned by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, showed strong support for raising the sale age of tobacco among both men and women and in every region of the state. Support in Eastern Washington (66 percent) was similar to support in Western Washington (70 percent). The poll found strong bipartisan support, as well, with 66 percent of Republicans and 72 percent of Democrats supporting increasing the tobacco sale age.

Where the tobacco sale age is raised to 21, it works.

Needham, Mass., became the first city to raise the legal age to purchase tobacco or vapor products to 21 in 2005. Between 2006 and 2012 Needham’s high-school smoking rate dropped by more than half — nearly three times the reduction in surrounding communities.

“There is no single policy the legislature could adopt this session that would do more to protect the health of our kids than to increase the minimum purchase age of tobacco to 21,” said Washington Secretary of Health John Wiesman.

The most recent Washington Healthy Youth Survey released in 2015 showed about 40,000 Washington youth aged 11-17 smoked in the past 30 days.

Smoking kills 8,300 Washingtonians every year, and more than $2.8 billion in annual health care costs are directly attributable to tobacco use in the state. In Washington alone, smoking costs Medicaid more than $788 million per year. The average Washington household pays $789 in taxes each year due to smoking-related health care — even if nobody in that household smokes.

In 1998, Attorney General Chris Gregoire took on Big Tobacco when companies were using cartoon animals and other strategies to market cigarettes toward children. A multi-state, multi-billion dollar agreement banned tobacco companies from marketing to kids and brought nearly $2 billion to Washington to date, funding anti-tobacco efforts and health insurance for low-income Washingtonians.

Complete list of the 13 sponsors of SB 5025:

  • Sen. Mark Miloscia, R-Federal Way
  • Sen. Maureen Walsh, R-Walla Walla
  • Sen. Steve O’Ban, R-Pierce County
  • Sen. Jeannie Darneille, D-Tacoma
  • Sen. Annette Cleveland, D-Vancouver
  • Sen. Curtis King, R-Yakima
  • Sen. Karen Keiser, D-Kent
  • Sen. Jamie Pedersen, D-Seattle
  • Sen. David Frockt, D-Seattle
  • Sen. Marko Liias, D-Lynnwood
  • Sen. Sam Hunt, D-Olympia
  • Sen. Maralyn Chase, D-Edmonds
  • Sen. Patty Kuderer, D-Bellevue

Complete list of the 34 sponsors of HB 1054:

  • Rep. Paul Harris, R-Vancouver
  • Rep. Eileen Cody, D-Seattle
  • Rep. Tina Orwall, D-Des Moines
  • Rep. Richard DeBolt, R-Chehalis
  • Rep. Norm Johnson, R-Yakima
  • Rep. Joan McBride, D-Kirkland
  • Rep. Judy Clibborn, D-Mercer Island
  • Rep. Shelly Short, R-Addy
  • Rep. Eric Pettigrew, D-Seattle
  • Rep. June Robinson, D-Everett
  • Rep. Jake Fey, D-Tacoma
  • Rep. Christine Kilduff, D-University Place
  • Rep. Marcus Riccelli, D-Spokane
  • Rep. Cindy Ryu, D-Shoreline
  • Rep. Terry Nealey, R-Dayton
  • Rep. Roger Goodman, D-Kirkland
  • Rep. Steve Tharinger, D-Sequim
  • Rep. Derek Stanford, D-Bothell
  • Rep. Noel Frame, D-Greenwood
  • Rep. Drew Stokesbary, R-Auburn
  • Rep. Gerry Pollet, D-Seattle
  • Rep. Laurie Jinkins, D-Tacoma
  • Rep. Larry Haler, R-Richland
  • Rep. Ruth Kagi, D-Seattle
  • Rep. Mark Hargrove, R-Covington
  • Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon, D-Seattle
  • Rep. Sherry Appleton, D-Poulsbo
  • Rep. Mike Chapman, D-Port Angeles
  • Rep. Tana Senn, D-Mercer Island
  • Rep. Steve Bergquist, D-Renton
  • Rep. Mia Gregerson, D-SeaTac
  • Rep. Jesse Young, R-Gig Harbor
  • Rep. Jessyn Farrell, D-Seattle
  • Rep. Vandana Slatter, D-Bellevue