By Tom James / Associated Press
OLYMPIA — Lawmakers in the state House on Wednesday passed a bill raising the smoking and vaping age to 21.
The chamber passed the measure on a 66-30 vote, and it now heads to the Senate for consideration.
The bill targets both tobacco products and so-called “vape” products, including e-cigarettes and other vapor devices.
If signed into law the bill would make Washington the seventh state to do so, after California, Hawaii, Maine, Massachusetts, New Jersey and Oregon. Earlier this month, a Democratic lawmaker in Hawaii proposed legislation aimed at making the state the first in the country to ban the sale of cigarettes for everyone except people age 100 and over.
“If we can keep kids, young adults, from smoking before the age of 21, 95 percent will never smoke.” said the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Paul Harris, a Vancouver Republican. He also claimed fewer smoking residents would also save the state money in the long term.
Numerous Democrats spoke in favor of the bill, but some Republicans questioned restricting 18-year-olds from smoking but allowing them to make other life-altering decisions like marriage and military enlistment. “This bill and others like it that we have seen is an example of a creeping nanny state approach,” said Rep. Jim Walsh, R-Aberdeen.
The measure broadly mirrors versions introduced the past three years. None cleared both chambers of the state Legislature, although the 2018 effort made it further than the previous two after Democrats regained control of the Senate.
But while advocacy groups including the American Lung Association supported the bill, some questioned its specifics.
Rob Crane, a physician and head of Tobacco 21, a Dublin, Ohio, group that promotes age-raise rules at the local level, criticized it for not doing more to target business owners that permit lax sales practices, rather than individual cashiers or purchasers. Crane described the approach as outdated.
Rep. Eileen Cody, a Seattle Democrat and chairwoman of the House Health Care and Wellness committee, said she was confident the state’s existing enforcement mechanisms would be sufficient.