Measure increasing legal age of tobacco sales on its way to fiscal committee

Measure increasing legal age of tobacco sales on its way to fiscal committee

The Department of Health and Human Services says each year nearly 14 thousand kids try tobacco for the first time.

A bill in Olympia is trying to reduce that number by raising the minimum age to legally buy tobacco products to 21 years old.

If it passes, Washington would join a growing list of states trying to keep tobacco out of schools.

The bill known as HB1074, was prefiled at the end of 2018 but that didn't stop the American Lung Association from giving Washington a failing grade in the fight to protect children from tobacco use.

RELATED STORY: Wash. state earns an 'F' on tobacco prevention, says American Lung Assn.

Benton-Franklin Public Health educator Vanessa McCollum says it's never too early to prevent young people from forming this deadly habit.

"We may have 15 and 16 year-olds sitting in class next to 18-year-old students who can legally purchase," she explained. "The brain does not finish developing completely until about the age of 25."

McCollum says this is why it's important to keep kids away from tobacco as long possible.

"When we look at the science of addiction, it's latching on to that addiction as a form of memory," she said.

Lawmakers are hoping the state's fifth attempt at raising the legal age to buy tobacco and vape products from 18 to 21 are successful.

Freshman Rep. Skyler Rude from Walla Walla signed on as a co-sponsor for the bill.

"While using tobacco is ultimately an individual choice in adulthood, our youth are being unnecessarily exposed to harmful substances and addiction much too early," he said.

Rude tells Action News he agrees more should be done to reduce the availability of tobacco products amongst high-school-aged students and their peers.

"We need to find a way to interrupt the supply line," he explained. "The Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids says roughly 2,800 Washington youth become addicted to tobacco each year. That’s enough students to fill 39 school busses."

Republican Paul Harris introduced House Bill 1074, but the measure has support on both sides of the aisle.

Including Democrat Monica Stonier, who says her middle-school age daughter wanted her to support Harris' bill.

"She reports to me the vaping that's going on in the bathrooms, and it's clear to me that our students at the high school level have been leading the charge in advocating for this policy," she said.

Stonier says stories like this are repeating all over the state.

"It's very clear to me that we're at a turning point and have to take action on this," she said.

This is something McCollum agrees could go a long way toward saving lives.

"We know the majority of adult smokers start before the age of 21," she said. "Learning to make connections, learning behaviors, it's really just in that crucial stage of forming.

On Tuesday the House Health Care and Wellness committee forwarded HB1074 to the appropriations committee.

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