OLYMPIA — 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 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-Vancouve. HB 1074 would prohibit the purchase of tobacco and vapor products for any person under the age of 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 access of students 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 that the proposed bill is a good idea, but won’t accomplish much. When Smith was underage, he found that it was easy to purchase tobacco products.
“It will probably reduce underage usage,” he said. “It won’t be eliminated, though.” He 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 which 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 a report by the institute, among adult daily smokers, approximately 90 percent report their first use of cigarettes before the age of 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 the age of 25.
HB 1074 ultimately aims to reduce the youth smoking rate in order to save lives and reduce health care costs. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, tobacco use causes approximately 6 million deaths per year. According to the CDC, in Washington state, over $2.8 billion in health care costs can be directly attributed to the use of tobacco.