A new push is on by Washington lawmakers to raise the legal age to buy tobacco from 18 to 21.
OLYMPIA — A new push is on by Washington lawmakers to raise the legal age to buy tobacco from 18 to 21.
An effort to raise it last year didn’t gain traction despite publicized support from state Attorney General Bob Ferguson, but lawmakers filed a new bill in advance of the legislative session that begins Monday.
The House version of the bill, House Bill 2313, has a hearing in the House Committee on Health Care and Wellness on Wednesday at 1:30 p.m. A new law in Hawaii recently raised its smoking age to 21 — becoming the first state to do so.
The primary sponsor of the House measure, Rep. Tina Orwall, D-Des Moines, remains optimistic about Washington following Hawaii’s lead.
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“I think it’s gaining momentum,” she said in a phone interview.
Orwall’s measure points to a study by the National Institute of Medicine to bolster the bill’s case. The study says raising the legal smoking age to 21 would reduce the smoking rate by about 12 percent and eventually reduce smoking-related deaths by 10 percent.
Of adults that become daily smokers, about 90 percent say they started smoking before turning 19, according to that study released in March 2015.
“We know we have this window where we can kind of prevent this lifelong addiction,” Orwall said.
In the House, the bill has more bipartisan sponsorship than last year. It’s sponsored by Republican leadership such as Rep. Shelly Short, R-Addy, the chairwoman of the Republican caucus in the House.
There are still significant roadblocks for the bill in the Senate. Sen. Michael Baumgartner, R-Spokane, chairman of the Senate’s Commerce and Labor Committee where the Senate version of last year’s attempt to raise the smoking age died, said he wants more information brought to the Legislature about vaping and e-cigarettes, which he said are potentially healthier alternatives to cigarettes.
Purchase of vaping devices and e-cigarettes by people under 21 would also be banned by the bills.
However, Baumgartner said he was open to having a hearing on the measure in the coming months.
“My position is, if you can fight and die for your country, you ought to be able to have a cigarette,” he added.
A person guilty of selling or giving tobacco or tobacco products like e-cigarettes to people under 21 would get a gross misdemeanor if the smoking age is raised, but underage people caught with tobacco would face no penalties other than having the tobacco taken.
The state Office of Financial Management estimated last year that raising the smoking age would cost the state $39.6 million in the 2015-2017 budget cycle because of anticipated loss of tax revenue related to the state taxes on tobacco and cigarettes. A report by the state Department of Health says smoking-related illnesses cost each Washington household about $628 a year in health-care expenses.
Republican Rep. Joe Schmick of Colfax, a member of the House Committee on Health Care & Wellness, opposes the bill.
“I just believe that people at age 18, if they’ve been given the proper education and the pros and cons about smoking, they should be able to make their own decision,” he said.