OLYMPIA — A bill to raise the legal age to buy cigarettes has begun its journey through the legislative process.
A House committee held a public hearing Tuesday on House Bill 1074, which would require a person to be at least 21 years old to purchase cigarettes, as well as tobacco and vapor products. Under current law, anyone 18 or older can buy those products.
“Without a change, tobacco addiction will shorten the lives of more than 100,000 Washington children who are alive today,” Attorney General Bob Ferguson told the Health Care and Wellness Committee. “That is the equivalent of approximately 30 school buses of children per legislative district.”
He and the state Department of Health requested the bill. Rep. Paul Harris, R-Vancouver, introduced it and 11 Democratic and Republican lawmakers are co-sponsors.
The bill, which has been considered in previous sessions, aims to decrease the number of eligible buyers in high school, thereby reducing 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, said 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 restrictions.
The Institute of Medicine, a nonprofit that offers advice about health issues, agrees with the public health results 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 likely would 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 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, more than $2.8 billion in health care costs can be directly attributed to the use of tobacco.
The Washington Newspaper Publishers Association’s Olympia news bureau consists of student journalists and recent graduates.