Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids issued the following announcement on March 27.
With a Senate vote, Washington state lawmakers have given final approval to legislation prohibiting the sale of tobacco products to anyone under 21. Gov. Jay Inslee has indicated support for the bill, which would add Washington to the growing number of states and localities that have raised the tobacco age to 21.
With this bold step, Washington will prevent young people from starting to use tobacco, save lives and help make the next generation tobacco-free. This bill will help reverse the youth e-cigarette epidemic and further drive down tobacco use, the No. 1 cause of preventable death in the United States. It will be critical that Washington effectively enforce this new law.
We thank Attorney General Bob Ferguson and the Department of Health for proposing this legislation and the lawmakers who championed it, especially lead sponsors Rep. Paul Harris and Sen. Patty Kuderer.
Washington's action provides another major boost for the growing, nationwide movement to increase the tobacco age to 21. Seven states – California, Hawaii, New Jersey, Maine, Oregon, Massachusetts and Virginia – and at least 440 cities and counties have enacted Tobacco 21 laws. Measures in Illinois and Utah await their governors' signatures, and other states are moving similar bills as well.
Increasing the tobacco age to 21 will reduce tobacco use among youth and young adults – age groups when nearly all tobacco use begins and that are heavily targeted by the tobacco industry. We know that about 95 percent of adult smokers began smoking before they turned 21. We also know that tobacco companies spend $9.4 billion a year – more than $1 million every hour – to market their deadly and addictive products, much of it aimed at young people.
A tobacco age of 21 will also help counter the industry's relentless efforts to target young people at a critical time when many move from experimenting with tobacco to regular smoking. It will also help keep tobacco out of high schools, where younger teens often obtain tobacco products from older students. A 2015 report by the National Academy of Medicine concluded that increasing the tobacco sale age to 21 would yield substantial public health benefits, with immediate and long-term benefits for the nation's health.
Tobacco use kills over 480,000 Americans and costs the nation about $170 billion in health care bills each year. In Washington, tobacco kills 8,300 people and costs over $2.8 billion in health care expenses each year. Increasing the tobacco age to 21 is a critical step in reducing and eventually eliminating tobacco's terrible toll.
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