State lawmakers who care about the health of Washington’s youth should vote to raise the smoking age to 21.
State lawmakers who care about the health of Washington youth need to vote to make it illegal to sell tobacco, either for smoking or vaping, to anyone under 21.
Smoking is still the most common preventable cause of death, from cancer, heart disease and stroke. The saddest part of smoking-related statistics is the fact that this slow-motion death sentence usually begins in the teen years. That’s when 95 percent of adult smokers told a national survey they started, and when the brain is most susceptible to nicotine addiction.
Raising the minimum purchase age restriction to 21 — from 18 — won’t stop every Washington teen from getting cigarettes, but it will squeeze the high-school pipeline of 18-year-olds buying cigarettes for their younger classmates.
Forty-one percent of tenth graders told Washington’s healthy youth survey in 2014 that it’s easy to get cigarettes.
Now that at least 200 municipalities plus California and Hawaii have voted to increase the age limit to 21, new data shows the policy change is having a positive impact.
A study published in the peer reviewed journal Tobacco Control found a law passed in Needham, Massachusetts, led to a 47 percent reduction in high school smoking.
Other research predicts a 12 percent decrease in smoking overall if sales are restricted to buyers 21 and older, according to the New England Journal of Medicine. The journal goes on to predict a nationwide Tobacco 21 rule would result in 249,000 fewer premature deaths, including 45,000 fewer deaths from lung cancer.
A fiscal note on Second Substitute House Bill 1054 says the measure would cost the state $12 million in lost sales tax revenue per biennium because of a decrease in cigarette and vaping supply sales. That’s a bargain compared to the long-term health costs related to smoking.
Another argument against the bill says the state should not restrict the choices of young people who volunteer for military service as young as age 18, the current minimum age to purchase tobacco products. But military officials say smoking is costly to the armed forces as well, because it contributes to troops being less combat ready and less physically fit.
The House should vote Tobacco 21 off the floor Wednesday, the deadline for policy bills to pass out of their house of origin.
This is a smart public-health proposal that will save lives and health.