The Legislature should ban people under the age of 21 from buying and possessing tobacco products.
FEW habits match smoking on the preventable-misery scale. Statewide, the health-care price tag comes in at $2.8 billion. And every year, more than 8,000 Washingtonians die prematurely because of tobacco use.
A bipartisan bill to boost the legal age to purchase cigarettes from 18 to 21 is a sensible, public-health approach that would save more than 100,000 young Washingtonians from smoking-related deaths, state Attorney General Bob Ferguson said. He requested the legislation last year.
A 2015 National Institute of Medicine report noted that 90 percent of daily smokers started by age 19. Adolescent brains are especially vulnerable to nicotine addiction. Hook ’em early and they stay hooked.
A fact sheet from Ferguson’s office quotes a R.J. Reynolds Tobacco researcher who said, “If a person has not smoked by the time they turn 21, the odds are ‘20-to-1’ they never will.”
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Last April, the state House Finance Committee tamped down Ferguson’s recommended smoking-age bill and — without irony — set the age at 19.
This year, there is growing momentum for legislation sponsored by state Sen. Mark Miloscia, R-Federal Way, and Rep. Tina Orwall, D-Des Moines, to raise the sale age to 21 for both tobacco and vaping products.
A Stuart Elway poll released Wednesday reports that 65 percent of state residents support raising the purchase age to 21. In addition, research from jurisdictions around the country confirms that hiking the smoking age would cut youth smoking by half.
Alcohol and cannabis already are restricted for those under 21. Adjusting the purchase age for tobacco makes sense and would save lives.
The Miloscia and Orwall legislation won’t extend to Joint Base Lewis-McChord and other military installations. If you’re old enough to serve your country, you still are old enough to buy tobacco on base (although you shouldn’t — it’s bad for you).
The Legislature needs to approve this change without delay.