Tobacco and vape age rising to 21 next year

Bill passed Senate and House; Inslee has promised to sign it
By Emma Epperly, WNPA Olympia News Bureau | Apr 03, 2019

The legal age to purchase tobacco and vape products is about to rise from 18 to 21 under a bill headed to the governor’s desk after a 33-21 vote by the Washington State Senate Wednesday, March 27.

The bill states its focus on “public health, safety and welfare by reducing youth access to addictive and harmful products.” Washington would be the ninth state to raise the minimum age for all tobacco products, and others are considering making the change, according to the American Lung Association.

Sen. Marko Liias, D-Mukilteo, voted in support of the bill.

The bill, however, would not make it illegal for those under 21 but over 18 to possess tobacco products. Additionally, since Native American Tribes are sovereign nations, federally recognized tribes and their lands fall under federal law, which is 18 years old to purchase tobacco and vape products.  Because of that,it will still be legal for those who are 18 to 20 to purchase tobacco products on tribal lands in Washington.

Tobacco product use is increasing among young people in the United States, with more than one in four high school students using tobacco products in 2018, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

Mukilteo Police Chief Cheol Kang said his department’s school resource officer, stationed at Kamiak High School, has been working with the school district on this matter.

“Officer (A.J.) Dobbs has been working to educate, and at times enforce, relating to youth using vape and tobacco products,” Kang said. “The age is still currently 18, but most students at Kamiak aren’t 18 yet, but some are.”

Tobacco use is still prohibited on school grounds in the school district, regardless of age.

Kang said he thinks it’s a good thing to raise the age, as the intent of the bill is to help the health of young adults and youth by making them wait until they’re 21 to be able to purchase those products.

“There’s a mystique and lure (to younger people) of something fruity that comes in various flavors,” Kang said of some vape products.

Kang said he sees this bill as the state’s Legislature “catching up” to restrict something potentially dangerous to one’s health, primarily with younger people.

Kang noted a few years ago that many used bath salts to get high, and how up until a few years ago, many materials needed to cook methamphetamine were available at stores.

The Snohomish County Health District published a news release recently, saying survey results showed the popularity of vapor products, or e-cigarettes, is increasing among all grade levels surveyed. The district said it’s an alarming step back after years of progress in reducing youth tobacco use.

Nearly half of high school seniors who responded to the survey in Snohomish County say they’ve tried an e-cigarette or vape pen at some point. About 30 percent say they currently vape.

More than a third of high school sophomores have tried vaping, and one in five currently vape. For eighth-grade students, one in five have tried vaping and one in 10 currently vape.

“We have Healthy Youth Survey results going back to 2002,” said Mark Beatty, health officer for the Snohomish Health District. “The percentage of Snohomish County youth using traditional cigarettes reached an all-time low in 2018. That’s the good news.The bad news is the rising popularity of e-cigarettes puts today’s youths at risk of becoming addicted to tobacco products through this route.”

The 2018 results also show that the older students gets, the less likely they are to believe regular use of an e-cigarette is harmful – about 46 percent of eighth-graders said it was harmful compared to only 32 percent of seniors.

“From 2016 to 2018, more than five times as many 10th-grade students said they use vapor products containing nicotine,” Beatty said. “Other possible risks are still being studied, but we already know that nicotine is highly addictive. These are serious concerns for public health.”

The survey is given every other year statewide to students in the sixth, eighth, 10 and 12th grades. In Snohomish County, 2,029 sixth-graders, 3,772 eighth-graders, 3,561 10th-graders and 2,793 12th-graders completed the survey. The survey is optional and anonymous. Questions covering topics such as health behaviors, safety and mental health will be released later this spring.

E-cigarettes make up 20.8 percent of tobacco products used among high schoolers, according to the CDC. The CDC webpage on youth tobacco use mentions JUUL devices, the most commonly sold e-cigarette nationwide.

JUULs are small USB-shaped devices that have refillable pods. Each pod can contain the same amount of nicotine as a pack of cigarettes. JUUL’s website and packaging indicate that their product is “the alternative for adult smokers.”

The company has acknowledged its role in the rise of e-cigarette use and has a youth prevention section on its website along with guidelines for marketing and social media. Among these guidelines are statements like, “JUUL is not appropriate or intended for youth” and “We do not feature images or situations intended for a youth audience.”

For the 4.9 million youth who use tobacco products, Washington’s purchase age change may not stop them from buying tobacco products, said Sen. Doug Ericksen (R-Ferndale), who cited some may purchase the products on trial lands.

“So it’s not illegal for an 18-year-old to have cigarettes; it’s simply illegal for them to purchase cigarettes, and it’s not illegal for them to purchase them on a tribal reservation shop. So that’s really my main concern on the equity and fairness issue,” Ericksen said.

Sen. Patty Kuderer (D-Bellevue) cited both personal experiences and the dramatic reduction in odds that individuals will pick up the habit of smoking after the age of 21 as the reasons she strongly supports the bill.

“For me it goes back to when I was a young teenage girl, and my grandfather was dying from emphysema,” Kuderer said. “If you have ever watched someone who is struggling to breathe, I can tell you that I will never forget the sound that he made or the look in his eyes. And if you could see that, too … you would know you would never want anyone to suffer from a smoking-related illness.”

House Bill 1074 was brought forward by request of Attorney General Bob Ferguson and the Department of Health. The bill was largely bipartisan, with Rep. Paul Harris (R-Vancouver) the prime sponsor. It passed out of the House with 66 votes in favor and 30 opposed. Rep. Lillian Ortiz-Self (D-Mukilteo) and Rep. Strom Peterson (D-Edmonds) voted in support of the bill.

The bill will take effect Jan. 1.

The bill heads to Gov. Jay Inslee’s desk, where he is expected to sign it into law. Inslee tweeted his support Wednesday afternoon saying, “Tobacco 21 is the most preventative, cost-effective policy we can adopt to protect the health of our youth.”

 

#Mukilteo Beacon Editor Brandon Gustafson contributed to this story.#

 

 

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