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Opinion >  Guest Opinion

John Wiesman: Raise the age; keep tobacco out of schools

John Wiesman

We know that smoking is bad, but what many of us might not know is that 1 in 6 10th-graders has smoked, vaped or used smokeless tobacco in the last 30 days. And for our high school seniors, that rises to 1 in 4. Today’s high schoolers are primarily getting their tobacco through their 18-, 19-, and 20-year-old friends because we have clamped down on illegal sales to minors. We have to do something if we want this cycle of addiction to stop.

This year the department of health and attorney general are asking our legislators to raise the minimum legal age for the sale of tobacco and vaping products to 21. Vaping is expanding the options for our kids to get addicted. We now know that kids who use e-cigarettes are at increased risk for future conventional cigarette smoking because their brains are still developing – our kids are much more likely to become addicted to nicotine products than those in their mid-20s.

A bipartisan coalition of legislators has stepped forward and proposed raising the minimum legal age for the sale of tobacco and vapor products from 18 to 21. This change, which has been embraced by communities and states across the country, is a strong, evidence-based approach for reducing rates of smoking in our middle and high school kids.

Five states – Hawaii, California, Oregon, New Jersey and Maine – have raised the tobacco age to 21, and nearly 300 cities such as Cleveland, San Antonio, New York City, Chicago and Boston have followed suit. The time is right to raise the age and eliminate the scourge that affects the lives of so many Washingtonians.

I recognize that passing this bill will result in some loss of tax revenue to the state. Currently that loss of revenue is anticipated to be about $6 million a year. However, Washington spends more than $2 billion annually on health care costs related to smoking. It’s time we stop the status quo, and reverse the burden tobacco places on our health care system and the lives of our families.

Currently, House Bill 1054 and Senate Bill 6048 are under consideration. We all know smoking kills; it’s time we prevent cigarettes and vapor products from getting in the hands of our children and teens and a new generation from becoming addicted to nicotine.

Let’s raise the age, and keep tobacco out of our schools.

John Wiesman is the Washington state secretary of health.

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