Smoking age may be raised to 21

Central students who are under the age of 21 may not be able to buy cigarettes if the legislation passes to raise the age to the same as alcohol.

Brittany Allen/Observer

Central students who are under the age of 21 may not be able to buy cigarettes if the legislation passes to raise the age to the same as alcohol.

Julia Moreno, News Editor

Washington lawmakers are looking to raise the legal age to buy tobacco products from 18 to 21.

Last year, a bill to raise the smoking age requirement did not pass despite the highly publicized support of Attorney General Bob Ferguson, according to The Seattle Times.

The latest attempt, House Bill 2313, was pre-filed on Dec. 18, 2015 and formally read into the record on Jan. 11, 2016.

“About a year and a half or so ago, when I was looking at potential legislation for the upcoming legislative session, we looked at what we could do to cut down on the amount of youth smoking in our state,” Ferguson said in a phone interview. “We felt that raising the smoking age to 21 would be the most effective way to do that and to save lives.”

In a youth health survey, 41 percent of minors said it was “very easy” to “sort of easy” to get cigarettes, according to the bill.

Additionally, the bill states many individuals who buy tobacco and vapor products for younger teens are between the ages of 18 and 20.

The bill’s sponsors hope that by decreasing the amount of eligible buyers who are still in high school, the number of minors who will have access to tobacco and vapor products will also decrease.

“Literally by raising the smoking age you will cut down on the amount of teenage smoking and that, of course, cuts down on people getting addicted,” Ferguson said.

According to research conducted by the National Institute of Medicine, increasing the legal smoking age to 21 will curtail the smoking by 21 percent and reduce smoking-related deaths by 10 percent.

Dr. Ginger Longo, Central’s director of the student medical and counseling clinic, said she agrees cigarettes are easier for younger teens to get when their slightly older peers can legally purchase them.

“I think it’s going to promote health overall,” Longo said. “It’s a good measure, [although] I think it will be hard to enforce.”

Local tobacco shops could possibly lose some business under the new bill but Jaime Newell, owner of Cloud 509 smoke shop, said she isn’t concerned with the potential loss of business.

“It’s going to be an issue of tax money in this state,” Newell said. “Kids who are 18 to 21 will figure out another way to get cigarettes.”

Brittany Rash, Smokeable Plus employee, said she doesn’t think the law is a bad idea.

“It’s probably the smart thing to do because, a lot of times, college students come to college and they’re only 18 years old and they start smoking it and start getting addicted,” Rash said.

She said that the store gets a lot of 18 to 19-year-olds who buy cigarettes.

While many are in support of the bill, there are some who are not.

Sen. Michael Baumgartner, Republican from Spokane and chairman of the Senate’s Commerce and Labor Committee, said he wants more information regarding vaping and e-cigarettes because they could be healthier alternatives to cigarettes, as reported by The Seattle Times.

“I don’t think there’s enough research, I’ve actually studied it and there’s not enough to say yes or no to [vaping being a healthier alternative],” Rash said.

Longo said she thinks that vaping is not a healthier alternative because the habit of smoking something is still there.

She said she agrees vaping and e-cigarettes have not been researched enough to see the effects.

Purchasing e-cigarettes and vaping devices would also be illegal for anyone under the age of 21, according to the bill.

Additionally, if the bill passes, those who supply tobacco products to anyone under the age of 21 will be charged with a gross misdemeanor.

However, underaged individuals with any tobacco products would not face charges and would only have the tobacco products taken away from them.

The bill would not impact the sale of tobacco products on military bases, according to Ferguson.

“If you’re a service member and you’re at your military base, you can walk in and buy your cigarettes at the age of 18 if thats what you want to do, but I don’t recommend that,” Ferguson said.

Ferguson said that some additional roadblocks have been about short-term budget issues due to the loss of revenue if the smoking age is raised.

The state Office of Financial Management estimated that in the 2015-2017 budget cycle it would cost the state a $39.6 million because of the loss of tax revenue on the state sales tax on tobacco and cigarettes, according to The Seattle Times.

“There is a short term impact,” Ferguson said. “My response is you can’t balance your budget on the backs of getting teenagers addicted to nicotine, to cigarettes.”