Washington lawmakers pass bipartisan bill to raise tobacco sales age to 21

OLYMPIA, Wash. -- Washington is poised to become the ninth state to raise the minimum age for tobacco sales to 21.

The state Senate passed a measure Wednesday (March 27) to raise the tobacco sales age with a 33-12 vote. The state House had previously approved the House version of the bill with a 66-30 vote on Feb. 20.

Now, the bill only needs Gov. Jay Inslee's signature to become law. Inslee supports the measure and has previously said he would sign it.

House Bill 1074, sponsored by 29 lawmakers from both parties at the request of the state Attorney General's Office and the Department of Health, raises the minimum age for selling tobacco products -- including e-cigarettes and vaping cartridges -- to 21. Similar measures have failed in the statehouse over the past few years.

State Sen. Patty Kuderer, D-Bellevue, sponsored the companion Senate bill and helped move the bill to the floor for a vote.

“By passing this bill, the Legislature is saving thousands of Washingtonians from a lifetime of addiction and smoking-related illnesses," Attorney General Bob Ferguson said in a news release. "Because 18- to 20-year-olds supply younger teens with tobacco and vape products, this will reduce the number of cigarettes and vape products in our high schools, which will lead to fewer kids getting addicted. I want to thank the large bipartisan group of elected leaders, health advocates, businesses, educators, students and parents for helping us make this happen. Addressing the heavy toll of tobacco-related disease, both in human lives and health care costs, moves us closer to being able to provide universal access to affordable health care for all Washingtonians."

According to the state Attorney General's Office, either other states and Washington, D.C., have raised the minimum age for tobacco sales to 21: Utah, Hawaii, California, New Jersey, Oregon, Maine, Massachusetts and Virginia.

Opponents argue that 18-20-year-olds who want to buy tobacco products can go to one of dozens of Indian reservations that would be immune to the statewide law. Language in the bill allows the governor's office to consult with sovereign nation tribes to raise the minimum age on their reservations.

Others, like Rep. Michelle Caldier of Port Orchard, maintain it would send mixed signals on what age makes a person an adult, according to The Seattle Times.

A coalition of nearly 80 organizations, businesses and municipalities supported the Tobacco 21 legislation, including the American Heart Association, March of Dimes, the YMCA, the Washington State PTA and the Washington State Board of Health.

The bill also had support from Altria, the corporation that owns Philip Morris USA, which produces Marlboro cigarettes.

The bill does not penalize youth possession.