Without this change, tobacco addiction will shorten the lives of 104,000 Washington kids alive today
OLYMPIA — Today, 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.
Attorney General Bob Ferguson and the Washington State Department of Health jointly requested the legislation, which Rep. Paul Harris, R-Vancouver, sponsored. Sen. Patty Kuderer, D-Bellevue, sponsored the companion Senate bill and helped move the bill to the floor for a vote. The House of Representatives passed the bill with a bipartisan vote of 66-30 on Feb. 20.
Gov. Jay Inslee, who has long supported the legislation, has promised to sign the bill. The bill goes into effect on Jan. 1, 2020.
Washington is the 9th state to raise the age of sale of tobacco and vapor products to 21. Ferguson first introduced the bill in 2015. If the bill had passed in the 2015 legislative session, Washington would have been the first state to raise the age.
Since then, California, Hawaii, Maine, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Oregon, Utah and Virginia, along with more than 450 cities and counties nationwide, have raised the tobacco sale age to 21. Legislation is moving in Illinois and New York that will raise the age to 21.
“By passing this bill, the Legislature is saving thousands of Washingtonians from a lifetime of addiction and smoking-related illnesses," said Ferguson. "Because 18- to 20-year-olds supply younger teens with tobacco and vape products, this will reduce the number of cigarettes and vape products in our high schools, which will lead to fewer kids getting addicted. I want to thank the large bipartisan group of elected leaders, health advocates, businesses, educators, students and parents for helping us make this happen. Addressing the heavy toll of tobacco-related disease, both in human lives and health care costs, moves us closer to being able to provide universal access to affordable health care for all Washingtonians."
"The movement to reduce consumption of tobacco among Americans was one of the most costly and successful public health efforts in our history, but the rise of vaping products targeting young people undermines the progress we had fought to achieve for generations,” said Sen. Kuderer. “We all know someone who has struggled with the serious health consequences of using tobacco products. I’m proud that today we have taken a stand together to interrupt the cycle of addiction before it even begins.”
“There is no redeeming value in smoking. There’s not one good thing a cigarette can do for youth,” Rep. Harris said. “Keeping cigarettes out of high schools will have a life-long positive impact on not just those who are 18 to 21, but also those who are even younger.”
"Today is a great day for the youth of Washington state," said Washington Secretary of Health John Wiesman. "Youth vaping has skyrocketed and this effort will help keep our youth free of nicotine addiction and save lives. I’m truly grateful for the support of Gov. Inslee and our Legislature."
“The tobacco industry preys on our kids and many of them become addicted to tobacco before they grow up. Many of these kids become regular daily smokers between the ages of 18 and 21, but the longer we can keep them away from tobacco, the less likely they will start,” said Mary McHale, Washington government relations director for the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network. “This legislation will help keep all tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, out of high school so our kids can grow up healthier.”
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.
The bill does not penalize youth possession.
The first city in the country to raise the smoking age, Needham, Mass., saw a more than 50 percent reduction in tobacco use among high school students in the years following passage of the law.
More than 95 percent of addicted smokers begin smoking before age 21. Without this change, tobacco addiction would have shortened the lives of 104,000 kids alive in Washington state today — the equivalent of nearly 30 busloads per legislative district.
Additionally, more than $2.8 billion in annual health care costs are directly attributable to tobacco use in the state. The average Washington household currently pays $789 in taxes each year due to smoking-related health care — even if nobody in that household smokes.
The Office of the Attorney General is the chief legal office for the state of Washington with attorneys and staff in 27 divisions across the state providing legal services to roughly 200 state agencies, boards and commissions. Visit www.atg.wa.gov to learn more.
Brionna Aho, Communications Director, (360) 753-2727; firstname.lastname@example.org