The Washington Legislature passed a proposal on Wednesday to raise the age for smoking and vaping to 21, putting the state on the brink of being the ninth to change its law.
The bill would raise the legal age to purchase tobacco and vaping products, including e-cigarettes regardless of whether they contain nicotine. Gov. Jay Inslee is expected to sign the proposal.
The Senate approved the measure 33-12 after the House passed it 66-30 in February. The policy, once signed, will become effective at the start of 2020, penalizing anyone selling to underage buyers.
State tobacco use accounts for more than $2.8 billion in annual health care costs, according to a press release from Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson. The average state household reportedly pays $789 in taxes each year due to those costs.
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“By passing this bill, the Legislature is saving thousands of Washingtonians from a lifetime of addiction and smoking-related illnesses,” Ferguson said in the statement. “Because 18- to 20-year-olds supply younger teens with tobacco and vape products, this will reduce the number of cigarettes and vape products in our high schools, which will lead to fewer kids getting addicted.”
If the proposal had passed when first introduced in the 2015 legislative session, Washington would have been the first state to raise the smoking and vaping age.
Instead, California and Hawaii were first to raise the age, with policies becoming effective in 2016, according to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. New Jersey followed in 2017, as did Oregon, Maine, and Massachusetts in 2018. Virginia’s policy is set to go into effect this July, according to the campaign.
Republican state senators called the proposal over-protective, arguing that 18-year-olds can make life-altering decisions including marriage, military enlistment and voting.
“Either you’re an adult at 18 or you’re not,” said Sen. Phil Fortunato, an Auburn Republican. “This is a personal freedom issue.”
Eighty-one percent of adult smokers tried their first cigarette before turning 18, the American Lung Association says.
Other conservatives expressed concern about whether the bill would create black markets around federally-regulated Native American reservations.
Nationally, more than 3.6 million middle and high school students used e-cigarettes in the past month in 2018, the Food and Drug Administration said, despite the federal government banning sales to those under 18.
Washington’s set of bills targets sellers of tobacco and vape products, but other states and municipalities have passed rules aimed at buyers.
Contributing: The Associated Press