On Friday, Jan. 29, House Bill 2313 proposed the legal purchasing age for tobacco and vapor products be raised to 21 in Washington. It passed the House Health Care and Wellness Committee with a 9-3 vote.
The bill now has the opportunity to circulate to the Finance Committee, followed by the Rules Committee before reaching the floor of the Washington House of Representatives, said Rep. Tina Orwall, the primary sponsor for the bill and a Democrat. She said the process will begin again if the bill reaches the Senate.
The bill must also receive a hearing. If the bill does not receive a hearing within a short time period, around one to two weeks, it will reach its cutoff date and will not move forward, Orwall said.
A study done by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed a 27.4 percent decrease in adult smokers between the years of 1965 and 2011.
Ninety percent of smokers began at or before the age of 18, according to a 2013 survey conducted by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.
The decision to take on this bill was motivated by how she lost both parents to tobacco-related illness, Orwall said.
“Both of them started [smoking] as teenagers; My mom was 15,” Orwall said. “I remember growing up and hearing my parents say constantly that they wished they’d never started. They tried to quit so many times.”
Orwall is a mother of two and does not want them have lives of addiction like her parents, she said. One in four high school seniors who smoke have tried to quit, Orwall said.
Orwall said the main opposing argument against the bill is those who are old enough to serve in the war should also be allowed to legally have a cigarette. However, the military has shown strong support in raising the legal smoking age to 21, as they want their new recruits to be as healthy as possible, Orwall said.
Many websites advocate for the age change, including tobacco21.org, which states adults between the ages of 18 and 20 purchase only 2 percent of cigarettes sold, but provide 90 percent of the tobacco to younger children.
At 7.9 percent, Washington’s youth-smoking rate is below the national average is of 15.7 percent, according to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
Beverly May, the western regional advocacy director for the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, supports the push to raise the legal age to 21. May came in two years ago to help Attorney General Bob Ferguson. They formed a coalition to support the bill in the summer of 2015.
Hawaii recently passed a similar law, making it the first state to do so. However, over 100 cities around the United States have raised the legal age for tobacco purchases to 21, May said. This includes big cities such as New York City. More cities are being added all the time, May said.
When minors have access to more suppliers, such as adult students attending the same school, they take advantage of those resources, May said. Polls from the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids concluded most children were getting tobacco from their upperclassmen peers, she said.