Raising the state’s smoking age might be good for public health, but it would be bad for the state’s coffers.

Raising the state’s smoking age might be good for public health, but it would be bad for the state’s coffers.

State hooked on cigarette taxes; voters want it to kick the habit

Raise the smoking age to 21? Sounds like a good idea to most people. A statewide poll – not a goofy Internet poll like ours, but an actual scientific one – found voters strongly in favor of raising the minimum age for smoking, and state lawmakers were all gung ho to go along.

Then, faster than you can say Marlboro, that express train slammed on the brakes. The state has come to rely on the tax money from cigarette sales to 18- to 20-year-olds, to the tune of $22 million expected between 2017 and 2019. Said Rep. Hans Dunshee of Snohomish: “We can’t figure out how we can afford it with all the other things we need to pay for.”

So they know it’s unhealthy but they don’t know how to stop. Addictions really are powerful.

In our latest poll at HeraldNet.com, we asked what lawmakers should do, considering the loss of tax revenue. You said it’s time to stage an intervention. Sixty-one percent said to raise the smoking age to 21 regardless of the cost, while just 39 percent said to leave it at 18.

Maybe our voters know that most smokers get hooked before age 21 and they’re worried about the long-term health of our young adults; or maybe they’re just sick of finding cigarette butts on the sidewalk. Either way, they’d like lawmakers to find the money somewhere else.

There must be spare change to be found in some other sin tax. The liquor tax is already in the stratosphere, so who would notice if it nudged up a little more? Or could the Legislature rake in more marijuana tax money if it held a certain kind of bake sale?

Or how about raising the cigarette tax? Make it higher for every year the buyer’s been alive. At some point they really should be old enough to know better.

Doug Parry, @parryracer

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