Legislation would raise legal smoking age in Washington to 21

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Lawmakers in Olympia are trying to raise the smoking age to 21, again.

If passed, Washington would join only two other states with the higher age restriction -- California and Hawaii. It would also apply to vape products and e-cigarettes.

The legal age to buy tobacco in Washington state is 18. 

Cancer advocates are urging lawmakers to pass Senate Bill 5025 and House Bill 1054 Tuesday. If passed, the bills would raise the legal age of sale for all tobacco products, including electronic cigarettes, to age 21.

In the last year, similar legislation proposed boosting the legal smoking age. A survey released last year revealed 65 percent of voters back hiking the smoking age to 21, while 35 percent oppose a potential raise.

According to the State Department of Health, 8 percent of Washington high schoolers smoke cigarettes and 18 percent use electronic cigarettes.

On Tuesday students today joined state leaders in explaining how common it is to see classmates use tobacco.

“These products are everywhere,” said Aiden Rees, a McMurray Middle School 8th grader.  “And I see my peers use them all the time.”

State Secretary of Health John Wiesman told the House Health and Wellness Committee a recent survey of 10th graders shows tobacco use is on the rise.

“One in 5 kids now smokes or vapes,” said Wiesman.  “We are going in the wrong direction and we are going there fast.”

The lone person to speak against raising the tobacco age told the committee it would hurt local convenience stores.

“If they're looking for a store that sells products in addition to tobacco they'll simply go to that other store,” said Mark Johnson who represents the Washington Retail Association.  “This means for retailers in border areas close to Idaho, Oregon, and tribal reservations this could see a loss in sales to stores across those borders.”

The American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network wrote in a news release that tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable death, killing more than 8,300 Washingtonians annually.

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