How raising tobacco age to 21 will affect smokers, businesses and your health

SEATTLE – Washington is poised to become the ninth state in the country to raise the age of sale of tobacco and vapor products following legislation that passed which now heads to the governor’s desk to sign, which he is expected to do.

Lighting up in Washington has lit up a debate in the state house for years about how old is old enough to purchase tobacco and vaping products.

A coalition of nearly 80 organizations, businesses and municipalities supported Ferguson’s Tobacco 21 legislation, including the American Heart Association, March of Dimes, the YMCA, the Washington State PTA and the Washington State Board of Health.

Wednesday, with a bipartisan vote of 33-12 in the Washington State Senate, the Washington State Legislature passed legislation to raise the sale age for tobacco and vapor products to 21.

Outside Future Vapor in Seattle, signs posted about the age limit being 18 to purchase products will soon change to 21 in 2020 if governor Jay Inslee signs it into law.

“We card everyone. If you don’t have any gray or platinum or silver going on you’re going to get carded,” said owner Zach McLain with a laugh and added his shop is very strict about checking ID cards.

McLain also knows the smoking struggle personally, saying he started smoking at age 13.

“Me and nicotine have been like this,” he said as he crossed his fingers to gesture the intertwined relationship.

He says he smoked a pack a day for 25 years and having started well before the age of 18, it was a social pull for him.

“I wanted to be cool. All my friends smoked and that what I wanted to do to. I’ll never forget buying my first pack,” said McLain.

He says he’s not sure if a law like this would’ve kept him from taking his first puff.

“It is a pretty big decision you’re making when you jump into it,” said McLain.

He says he can also understand this statistic from Molly Ryan with the American Lung Association, “We know the vast majority of smokers start smoking by 21. About 95% start smoking before the age of 21,” said Ryan. “The brain development occurs into your mid 20s and nicotine has an adverse effect on brain development,” she added.

 “We’re struggling with an epidemic of youth e-cigarette use, which has risen almost 80 percent nationwide in the past year. By raising the age of sale for all tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, we will help keep these products out of high schools so that youth in our state can live longer, healthier lives. Unless current smoking rates in Washington decline, 104,000 kids in our state who are alive today will eventually die from a tobacco-related illness,” said the American Cancer Society in a statement.

McLain says it is nicotine that has kept him hooked.

“I’d say I’m around half pack a day in nicotine,” said McLain who now vapes instead of smokes. He says his business focus is geared to helping adults transition from cigarette and tobacco products to vaping, which McLain believes is safer.

“Our top flavor is Earl Grey tea with creme and honey,” said McLain about the flavors he sells.

He says for his shop, “I would say all in all about 15-20%” of his customers are between the ages of 18-21. McLain adds the new law will still take a hit on business in an already difficult industry.

“We’re constantly trying to make sure we survive it’s a rollercoaster being in this industry,” said McLain.

The bill is now sent to Governor Jay Inslee’s desk.  If he signs it, the new law would go into effect in January 2020.

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