OLYMPIA, Wash. -- Should Washington increase the legal age for tobacco sales from 18 to 21? It's a measure that's being debated in the state Legislature this session.
House Bill 1074, sponsored by 29 lawmakers from both parties at the request of the state Attorney General's Office and the Department of Health, would raise the minimum age for selling tobacco products -- including e-cigarettes and vaping cartridges -- to 21. Similar measures have failed in the statehouse over the past few years.
Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson testified at a public hearing on the bill this week, noting that more than 95 percent of people addicted to smoking started before they turned 21.
Gov. Jay Inslee has said that the measure also would help curb the rampant use of e-cigs among teenagers. He said one in five high school students admit to "vaping."
E-cigarettes have largely been marketed as a less harmful alternative for adult smokers, but experts say youth are being hit hard by a combination of how vapes deliver nicotine, how kids’ brains are wired and developing, and the gadgets’ unique appeal to kids.
Their long-term health effects are still unclear.
Six states – California, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Oregon, Hawaii and Maine – have raised the tobacco age to 21, along with at least 430 localities, including New York City, Chicago, San Antonio, Boston, Cleveland, Minneapolis, both Kansas Cities, and Washington, D.C., according to the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids.
Opponents argue that 18-20-year-olds who want to buy tobacco products can go to one of dozens of Indian reservations that would be immune to the statewide law. Language in the bill would allow the governor's office to consult with sovereign nation tribes to raise the minimum age on their reservations.
Others, like Rep. Michelle Caldier of Port Orchard, maintain it would send mixed signals on what age makes a person an adult, according to The Seattle Times.
The bill also has support from Altria, the corporation that owns Philip Morris USA, which produces Marlboro cigarettes. The Times reports that Altria sent a letter in support of HB 1074 because it's "the most effective step available to reverse rising underage e-vapor rates."
The bill was introduced in a public hearing this week. The Senate Committee on Health and Long Term Care heard the bill Friday morning.