Proposed legislation would raise age to buy tobacco, vaping products to 21

OLYMPIA, Wash. — There's a renewed push in the state legislature to raise the age for buying tobacco and vape products from 18 to 21.

This is Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson’s fifth attempt to pass the bill since 2015. Six states, including California and Oregon, along with more than 360 municipalities nationwide, have raised the tobacco sale age to 21 and Ferguson believes momentum is on his side.

“This is one of those few bills that gets proposed in Olympia that can literally save lives,” Ferguson said.

Ferguson said the goal is to get cigarettes out of high schools.

“The studies show if you're not addicted to nicotine and smoking by the time you're 21, there's only a 5% chance you ever will,” Ferguson added.

“I do support it. I don’t want people smoking at all,” said Tanner Bush, manager of Beyond Vape in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood. “We are here to get people to stop in general. That’s what got me in to the industry was - I have a lot of family that passed away to lung cancer and different kinds of cancers carried on by cigarettes and tobacco plants.”

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Critics have warned of lower state tax revenues.

“On the short term there's a cost because you lose that tax revenue of teenagers buying cigarettes. It's about three million bucks a year. But in the long term, of course, the state will gain many millions more because of all the saving-related health impacts they have as they get older,” Ferguson explained.

Marc Jarrett, co-owner of O Vapor and vice president of the Pink Lung Brigade, a pro-vaping advocacy group, said his organization hasn't taken a stance on the age restriction. He said there needs to be a larger community conversation about what constitutes an adult. But he has some concerns about decreased access if the law is changed to 21.

“I do fear what sort of things young people will resort to in order to get a hold of vapor products, maybe making their own sort of vapor products,” Jarrett said.

“We can either do it now and be on the front end or wait more time and get more teens to get addicted to tobacco products,” Ferguson said.

Other critics question why someone who could sign up for the military and fight in war couldn't buy tobacco or vape products. If the bill is passed, military bases would be impacted.

Ferguson said it makes sense -- since consumers can't buy alcohol or smoke marijuana until they're 21 -- to make it consistent for tobacco products.

To see all the highlights of the AG's 2019 legislative agenda, follow this link.