State Rep. Paul Harris, R-Vancouver, said that he’ll try again during the next legislative session to make Washington the seventh state in the country to raise the smoking age to 21.
“It will improve the quality of life for these kids later in life,” he said. “It truly will.”
Last session, Harris came close to successfully sponsoring legislation outlawing the sale of tobacco and vapor products to individuals under 21. His bill passed out of the House on the last day of a jam-packed session but ran out of time in the Senate.
Harris, a cancer survivor, said that he’s reached out to state Rep. Eileen Cody, D-Seattle, who chairs the House Health Care and Wellness Committee, about the bill.
“It’s a priority for her; it’s a priority for me,” Harris said. “We’re definitely going to get it heard this year.”
He said he expects the bill to be heard early in the upcoming session. While Democrats — who have expanded their majorities — have been friendlier to the bill, he said it’ll have bipartisan support.
In a statement, Harris pointed to a 2014 U.S. Surgeon General report that found nearly 95 percent of smokers started smoking before the age of 21. The statement also referenced a 2015 report by the National Academy of Medicine that found raising the smoking age to 21 would produce significant public health benefits.
Harris said he was particularly concerned about teenagers increasingly turning to vaping products. Offered as an alternative to smoking, they’re devices that heat liquid mixed with nicotine and sugary flavors into an inhalable vapor.
In 2017, Dr. Alan Melnick, director of Clark County Public Health and Clark County Health Officer, unsuccessfully tried to convince the Clark County Council to add Harris’ bill to the county’s legislative agenda. He argued that underage teenagers are often in the same social networks as 18- and 19-year-olds, and increasing the smoking age would keep tobacco products out of their hands.
According to the 2016 Healthy Youth Survey, about 8 percent of county 10th-graders had reported using cigarettes in the past month. The state rate is 6 percent, Clark County Public Health said in a statement.