Lawmakers push to raise age to buy tobacco, vaping products to 21

Lawmakers push to raise age to buy tobacco, vaping products to 21

TRI-CITIES, Wash. – Lawmakers are pushing for a bill that would raise the age of buying tobacco products from 18 to 21.

Legislators hope it could help prevent long-term addiction down the road, but opponents say it could hurt business in town.

The American Cancer Society reports each day about 40 teens in our state under the age of 18 start smoking.

Lawmakers in Washington want to get the influence of tobacco out of high schools.

"There's not one redeeming thing that comes from smoking a cigarette,” said Rep. Paul Harris - (R), of the 17th Legislative District and the the bill’s main sponsor. “The only thing it does do is take about 3-6 seconds off your life."

Two bills in the house (HB1054) and senate (SB5025) would raise the age of sale for tobacco and vapor products in Washington state from 18 to 21.

Our local Rep. Larry Haler is a sponsor of the legislation and favors the change.

“Both my parents died of smoking-related illnesses and they started smoking when they were 18,” said Rep. Haler, of the 8th Legislative District.

The state reports if current smoking rates don't change in our state, more than 100,000 kids alive today will die early from tobacco related illnesses.

The National Academy of Medicine reports raising the age would result in a 25 percent decrease in tobacco use among 15 to 17-year-olds.

"I opt for the healthy life," Rep. Haler said.

Opponents argue stores would have substantial revenue loss.

"I know that there are some vape shops that it would make the difference for them in order to close their doors," said Ashley Britain, a community activist and vape business owner.

As an advocate for the vaping industry, Britain said she agrees with raising the age for tobacco and cigarettes, but believes the legal vaping age should remain at 18.

"Because we're here to help the youth the help everyone to get off cigarettes to lead a healthier lifestyle," she said.

Britain said there is no tobacco in any vaping product, but varying levels of nicotine can be added.

However, medical professionals are concerned about the adverse effects of vaping.

"They're causing the same kind of damage as cigarettes do," said Dr. Sheila Rege said, an oncologist out of Kennewick with the Northwest Cancer Clinic and serves on the WSMA Board of Trustees. "Gum disease, mouth sores, the gas and particles going into the lungs."

The measure is still in the rules committee, and did not get through appropriations on Tuesday. The bill sponsors worry it may be losing some steam.

"If it doesn’t pass this year, I believe it truly is just a matter of time," Rep. Harris said.

If the bill passes in the house and senate, Washington would become the sixth state to adopt such laws, alongside Oregon, California, Hawaii, New Jersey and Maine.

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