State leaders consider increasing age to buy tobacco, vaping products

State leaders consider increasing age to buy tobacco, vaping products

Washington state lawmakers are trying to raise the minimum age to buy tobacco and vaping products to 21.

Legislation to raise the age to buy tobacco has been introduced in the past. Last year, advocates saw some momentum when a similar bill passed the state house in the finals days of the session. But, time ran out.

House Bill 1074 came before lawmakers at a public hearing this week. That’s where high schooler Madison Langer testified about how her addiction started.

“When I was 15, I started using vapor products,” Langer said.

She went on to tell state leaders an older friend helped her get the nicotine product that was Captain Crunch flavored.

The small, high tech e-cigarette didn’t smell bad, it was easy to hide and even easier to get.

“I would get everything from 18-year-olds at our school. It was very easy,” Langer said.

Langer is one of thousands of teens in Washington state who started smoking before 18. That trend is part of what’s pushing State Attorney General Bob Ferguson and the Washington State Department of Health to request the legal age to buy tobacco and vaping products increase to 21.

“Without a change, tobacco addiction will dramatically shorten the lives of more than 100,000 Washington children who are alive today,” Ferguson said. “That is the equivalent of approximately 30 school buses of children per legislative district.”

Data from the State Health Department shows that in 2016, 6 percent of 10th graders admitted they smoked in the past 30 days. The number of teens using electronic cigarettes was more than double that at 13 percent, according to that same data.

A recently issued advisory from the U.S. Surgeon General showed e-cigarette use in the United States went up 78 percent among high-schoolers from 2017-2018.

If this bill passes, Washington would join six states and nearly 400 cities and counties that have already raised the age to buy tobacco to 21.

But, not everyone supports the idea.

Elena Orellana started smoking two years ago when she was 17. The Spokane woman said she doesn’t support the age increase and believes if it passes, it won’t help.

“So if you make it 21, it’s not gonna make any difference. It’s just gonna cause more children, more young adults to go buy it for them illegally, like they do alcohol,” Orellana said.

During public testimony in Olympia, Allan Kettle, who said he runs multiple vape shops, said he was against HB 1074. He believes the law would be easily avoidable because people under 21 can buy tobacco products on Indian reservations.

According to the legislative documents, the bill would allow the government to work with tribes on their tobacco and vape sales policies.

If HB 1074 is signed into law, it would go into place January 1, 2020.

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