OLYMPIA — Washington is on the verge of outlawing the sale of cigarettes and vaping products to anyone younger than 21.
On Wednesday, the state Senate passed a bill raising the legal age for buying tobacco products, e-cigarettes and related vape devices from 18 to 21.
The measure, which cleared the House in February, will be sent to Gov. Jay Inslee for his expected signature.
“This bill is about saving lives,” Sen. Patty Kuderer, D-Bellevue, said in Wednesday’s floor debate.
Research shows those who are not smoking by the time they are 21 are far less likely to ever start, she said.
“That saves millions of dollars in health care costs” for the state, she said.
Sen. Phil Fortunato, R-Auburn, one of the dissenters, argued that if the state can trust an 18-year-old with the responsibility of voting than why not with this matter.
“Either you are an adult and intelligent enough to make your own decisions at 18, or not,” he said. “This is a personal freedom issue.”
Passage of the legislation comes amid signs that vaping is growing in popularity among students.
The 2018 Healthy Youth Survey found fewer Snohomish County middle and high school students are smoking cigarettes but their use of vapor products, such as e-cigarettes and vape pens, is increasing.
Based on survey responses, one in 10 eighth-grade students vape; one in five have tried vaping.
Nearly half of high school seniors responding to the survey tried an e-cigarette or vape pen. About 30 percent said they vape.
In the Senate floor debate, members on both sides of the final vote expressed concern that those under 21 will still be able to buy cigarettes and vapor products from smoke shops on tribal lands. The change in state law would not apply to reservations.
“Why create a two-tier system,” said Sen. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale, who voted against the bill. “Let’s have one fair standard for all of Washington.”
Sen. Ann Rivers, R-La Center, voted for the bill to honor the memory of her sister and parents who died from lung cancer.
But she said she is worried about smoke shops on reservation lands. She called on tribal leaders to follow the state’s lead and raise the age.
The measure broadly mirrors versions considered in the Legislature in each of the past three years. None cleared both chambers of the Legislature, although the 2018 effort made it further than the previous two after Democrats regained control of the Senate.
California, Hawaii, Maine, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Utah, Virginia and Oregon have already raised the smoking age inside their borders, as has Guam, according to the American Lung Association and the Centers for Disease Control.
House Bill 1074 passed the Senate on a 33-12 vote. The House approved it 66-30 on Feb. 20.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.