Washington Raises Legal Smoking Age To 21

By Kelly Burch 03/29/19

Washington joins states such as California, Hawaii, Maine and Massachusetts who have also increased the legal smoking age to 21.

man smoking a cigarette in Washington

This week, Washington became the eighth state to change the legal age to purchase cigarettes to 21. 

On Wednesday (March 27), the Washington Senate passed a bill that raised the minimum age for buying cigarettes, tobacco, and electronic smoking devices, including vapes, according to The Herald.

“This bill is about saving lives,” said Democratic state Senator Patty Kuderer, who says that raising the smoking age not only prevents lifelong use, but will also save the state "millions of dollars in health care costs."

Republican state Senator Phil Fortunato said that the bill did not make sense if the legal age of adulthood is 18. “Either you are an adult and intelligent enough to make your own decisions at 18, or not,” he said. “This is a personal freedom issue.”

People under 21 will still be able to purchase tobacco and electronic smoking devices on tribal lands in the state—something that many lawmakers, including Republican state Senator Doug Ericksen objected to.

“Why create a two-tier system,” he said. “Let’s have one fair standard for all of Washington.”

California, Hawaii, Maine, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Oregon and Virginia all have a minimum age of 21 for purchasing tobacco and smoking products. Many cities have also adopted the measure, according to the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, which advocates for increasing the smoking age. 

“Nearly all smokers start as kids or young adults, and these age groups are heavily targeted by the tobacco industry,” the group writes. “Increasing the tobacco age to 21 will help to prevent young people from ever starting to smoke and to reduce the deaths, disease and health care costs caused by tobacco use.”

In Hawaii, a lawmaker has presented an even more drastic proposal, trying to raise the minimum smoking age to 100 by 2034. 

“In my view, you are taking people who are enslaved from a horrific addiction, and freeing people from horrific enslavement. We, as legislators, have a duty to do things to save people’s lives. If we don’t ban cigarettes, we are killing people,” Representative Richard Creagan told the Hawaii Tribune-Herald.

Although rates of cigarette use are decreasing among teens, more young people are using electronic cigarettes, which pose health risks. The FDA is even considering a medication to help kids quit vaping.

Matthew L. Myers, who is the president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, told CNN, “The FDA has concluded that the level of addiction it is seeing among youthful e-cigarette users is so disturbing and so unprecedented that it needs to at least ask whether we need a solution that goes beyond what we ever did with cigarettes.”

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.