Washington State

Office of the Attorney General

Attorney General

Bob Ferguson

Mar 13 2015

Scientific report boosts AG-request legislation to keep tobacco out of the hands of Washington youth

OLYMPIA — A new scientific report issued yesterday by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) strongly concludes that increasing the age for the sale of tobacco products to 21 will have a substantial positive impact on public health, helping to fight the scourge of tobacco use and save lives. The findings add additional weight to Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson’s proposed legislation to raise the tobacco sale age.

The report, issued by one of the most prestigious scientific authorities in the United States, finds that increasing the tobacco sale age to 21 will significantly reduce the number of adolescents and young adults who start smoking; reduce deaths from smoking; and immediately improve the health of adolescents, young adults, young mothers and their children.

Key findings from the report include:

  • Increasing the tobacco sale age would make the greatest difference among those ages 15-17, who would no longer be able to pass for legal age, and would have a harder time getting cigarettes from older classmates and friends.

  • Raising the minimum age for the sale of tobacco products to 21 will, over time, reduce the smoking rate by about 12 percent and smoking-related deaths by 10 percent.

  • Increasing the tobacco sale age is a key new tool to prevent young people from ever becoming addicted to tobacco and starting on a path that, all too often, leads to serious disease and premature death.

“Ninety-five percent of adult smokers start before age 21, and the lifelong health complications and costs to both the individual and the taxpayer are enormous,” said Attorney General Bob Ferguson. “One of the ways we can address this is by moving tobacco and nicotine out of the pipeline that hooks new users in their teens, when their brains are unusually susceptible to nicotine addiction. I hope our Legislature reviews this new information very carefully as they consider a change in our legal smoking age.”

Ferguson introduced agency request legislation this year that would raise Washington’s age to legally use and possess tobacco and nicotine products from 18 to 21. Senate Bill 5494 is sponsored by Sen. Mark Miloscia (R-Federal Way) and House Bill 1458 is sponsored by Rep. Tina Orwall (D-Des Moines). SHB 1458 passed the House Health Care & Wellness Committee on a bipartisan 12-3 vote, and is now before the House Finance Committee.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, cigarette smoking is the leading cause of preventable death in the United States, accounting for nearly one in every five deaths overall (480,000 deaths annually).

Every year in Washington state, tobacco claims about 8,700 lives and costs the state more than $650 million in publicly funded health care costs. 

The Washington Healthy Youth Survey, released yesterday, shows that about 40,000 youth aged 11-17 in Washington smoked in the past 30-days and about 30 youth begin smoking each day.

“Those figures are unacceptable, even though we’ve made considerable progress on reducing the toll of tobacco products on the health and the lives of people in our state,” said Secretary of Health, John Wiesman. “This study confirms the need to act now by raising the legal age to 21, so we can get started preventing deaths and lowering health care costs.”

Results from the Social Climate Survey of Tobacco Control showed that more than two thirds of U.S. adults, including a majority of smokers, support raising the legal age to buy tobacco from 18 to 21.

The IOM, the health arm of the National Academy of Sciences, is an independent, nonprofit organization that works outside of government to provide unbiased and authoritative advice to decision makers and the public. Their report on the public health implications of raising the minimum age of legal access to tobacco products and related materials can be found at www.iom.edu/.



Donn Moyer, Department of Health Communications Office, 360.236.4076

Alison Dempsey-Hall, Attorney General’s Office Communications, 206.442.4482