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

President’s emergency declaration sparks immediate legal backlash

Attorney General Bob Ferguson said his team will sue the White House if federal funds originally intended for Washington state are interrupted.

Bill targets sexual health curriculum in Washington schools

Senate Bill 5395 is co-sponsored by 17 Democratic representatives and introduced by Sen. Claire Wilson, D-Federal Way.

According to King County’s Mental Illness and Drug Dependency (MIDD) annual report, Seattle had the highest rate of people using services at 36 percent of the total, followed by 31 percent from South King County, 18 percent from the greater Eastside, and 7 percent from north county including Shoreline.
Study shows King County’s treatment funding is making progress

A document on the county’s .1 percent health sales tax was accepted Wednesday by the county council.

Captain Ron Mead, commander of the Washington State Patrol in King County, directs traffic on the top of Snoqualmie Pass. Photo courtesy of Trooper Rick Johnson.
Convoy leads Snoqualmie travelers to safety

Immense snowfall led to dicey conditions on the pass.

Children’s play area at Seadrunar. Photo by Lauren Davis via Facebook
Seedy side of Seadrunar: Drug rehab center accused of neglect, exploitation

Public records reveal that Seattle facility was accused of neglecting children and clients in its care.

Somali community faces SeaTac displacement

Proposed redevelopment threatens the heart of the Somali business community.

Brandi Carlile needs more mantle space after taking winning three Grammys on Sunday night.
Seattle cleans up at Grammys

Brandi Carlile, Seattle Symphony, and Chris Cornell combine to take home six awards.

Legislation targets missing and murdered indigenous women epidemic

Savanna’s Act co-sponsored by U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA); Washington ranks among highest in nation

OfferUp founder Nick Huzar makes customer safety a core pillar

Bellevue-based CEO wanted a simpler solution to his own problems

Most Read