New bill would make Washington nation’s first state to raise legal age for tobacco, vapor products to 21
OLYMPIA — Washington has long been at the forefront of the fight to protect youth from the dangers of smoking. Continuing that leadership role, Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson today announced a bill that would make the state the first to raise the legal age for purchasing and possessing tobacco and vapor products to 21. The harmful consequences of tobacco are clear. Smoking kills 8,300 Washingtonians every year, and $2.8 billion in health care costs are directly attributed to tobacco use in the state. Washington state taxpayers pay nearly $400 million in taxes to cover state government expenditures caused by smoking. According to a recent report by the U.S. Surgeon General, over 100,000 of today’s Washington youth are projected to die prematurely due to the effects of smoking.
“The damage tobacco does to the lives and health of Washingtonians is devastating,” Ferguson said. “Research shows the young adult brain, still developing between 18 and 21, is highly susceptible to nicotine addiction. We must do more to protect our youth from tobacco’s grip, and this bill is an important step toward keeping nicotine out of the hands of kids and young adults.”
“We know that tobacco is highly addictive, that most smokers begin to use nicotine in their teens and can later develop tobacco-related illnesses like cancer, emphysema and heart disease,” Orwall said. “By restricting use during youth we hope to break this cycle of addiction and, ultimately, save lives.”
“As one of the most risky, addictive and harmful activities a young person can engage in, smoking should be a decision they make once they have had a chance to grow and mature,” said Miloscia. “This action could drive a major decline in smoking addiction, help save human lives and reduce health care costs.”
A 2012 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services report found that more than 90 percent of smokers began before leaving their teens. Research shows more than a quarter of smokers move from experimentation to daily use between ages 18 and 21. The bill would raise the legal age to purchase and possess tobacco and vapor products to 21, effectively reducing access among younger teens and providing long-term savings in health care costs.
Like tobacco, most vapor products contain nicotine, which is highly addictive and impacts adolescent brain development. Vapor products currently have minimal state regulation, and some contain carcinogens.
Nationally, the percentage of middle and high school students who have used vapor products more than doubled from 2011 to 2012. By 2014, 17 percent of high school seniors had tried e-cigarettes.
Alabama, Alaska, New Jersey and Utah already prohibit the sale of tobacco products to persons under the age of 19, and some cities and counties have increased their smoking ages to 21. Needham, Mass., became the first city to do so in 2005 and has seen its high-school smoking rate drop by more than half between 2006 and 2012.
In 1998, then-Attorney General Chris Gregoire took on Big Tobacco when companies were using cartoon animals and other efforts to market cigarettes toward children. A multi-state, multi-billion dollar agreement banned tobacco companies from marketing to kids and brought billions to Washington, funding anti-tobacco efforts and health insurance for low-income Washingtonians.
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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. Attorney General Bob Ferguson is working hard to protect consumers and seniors against fraud, keep our communities safe, protect our environment and stand up for our veterans. Visit www.atg.wa.gov to learn more.
Peter Lavallee, Communications Director, (360) 586-0725; PeterL@atg.wa.gov