By Madeline Coats, WNPA Olympia News Bureau
A proposed law requested by State Attorney General Bob Ferguson and the Department of Health would raise the minimum legal age of sales for tobacco and vapor products in Washington from 18 to 21.
The bill, HB 1074, was co-sponsored by a bipartisan group of 11 representatives and introduced by House Minority Leader Rep. Paul Harris (R-Vancouver).
HB 1074 would prohibit the purchase of tobacco and vapor products for any person under age 21. The current age limit is set at 18 years old.
The prefiled bill intends to decrease the number of eligible buyers in high school in order to reduce students’ access to tobacco products. The text of the bill states that jurisdictions across the country have been increasing the age of sale to 21, and at least six states and 350 cities and counties have raised the legal sales age.
John Smith from Driftwood Vapor in Lacey explains that the proposed bill is a good idea, but won’t accomplish much. When Smith was underage, he said it was easy to purchase tobacco products.
“It will probably reduce underage usage,” Smith said. “It won’t be eliminated, though.” Smith also believes that adolescents and young adults will find a way to access tobacco regardless of age restrictions.
The Institute of Medicine, a non-profit organization that offers advice on issues related to health, agrees with the public health implications of raising the age of legal access to such products. According to the institute, among adult daily smokers, about 90 percent report their first use of cigarettes before age 19.
The institute argues that increasing the minimum legal age would likely prevent or delay the use of tobacco products by adolescents and young adults. The committee predicts that increasing the age of purchase will reduce tobacco use initiation among teenagers and improve the health of Americans.
The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse addresses the heightened risk of addiction to nicotine for adolescents and the negative effects on the development of the cerebral cortex and hippocampus. The center’s scientific studies of the brain have shown that humans are highly vulnerable to addictive substances until age 25.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, tobacco use causes approximately 6 million deaths per year. The CDC reports that in Washington state, over $2.8 billion in health care costs can be directly attributed to the use of tobacco.