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

Washington State Capitol Building in Olympia. File photo
Democratic lawmakers roll out spending plans for climate change, homelessness

Republican opposition calls for tax relief, rather than spending the increased revenue.

PNW plant-based foods could help in climate fight

Animal products create a lot of emissions, but veggie alternatives are coming from King County.

The Colstrip Power Plant in Montana. Puget Sound Energy owns 25 percent of the remaining two units. File photo
PSE files to sell part of Colstrip coal plant

The utility owns two units at the Montana power plant.

Fentanyl (Courtesy photo)
Fentanyl overdoses keep increasing in King County

Meth overdoses are on the rise as well, continuing a trend reported on last year.

Charter review could overhaul King County Sheriff’s Office

Several changes to the King County Sheriff’s Office were proposed.

The language of the original bill prohibited privately-owned detainment facilities from being contracted by local, state, or federal government entities, but a last-second amendment was adopted to substantially narrow the focus of the legislation. File photo
Lawmakers flinch on banning for-profit detention facilities

Last minute amendment exempted ICE detainment facility.

A proposal to make King County Metro fares free for low-income households could be approved in the coming months. File photo
King County considers free transit for low-income residents

The program would target those at or below 80 percent of the federal poverty level.

High tides, as seen in this file photo of Raymond’s Willapa Landing Park in Pacific County, could become the norm in the future due to sea level rise. Sound Publishing file photo
UW summarizes Washington climate impact on water

The report localizes information from the United Nations.

State Capitol Building, Olympia, Washington. File photo
Mental illness: Lawmakers propose plan to treat without consent

Concerns raised on the guardianship and loss of rights for incapacitated persons.

Most Read