Some in Washington state are trying to raise the legal smoking age from 18 to 21, a step that should be adopted by Oregon and throughout the nation.
It will be a challenge to get all the pieces in place during the remainder of Washington’s short legislative session this winter. A bill to increase the tobacco possession age has passed a House committee, but the Everett Herald reported this Tuesday that the overall legislation has run into opposition based on concerns about tax revenue and fairness. The age increase is supported by 65 percent of Washington residents, according to polling, and has a strong advocate in state Attorney General Bob Ferguson.
Desire for the change is driven by modern awareness that teenage tobacco addictions are difficult to kick and lead to lifetimes of adverse health consequences.
By the time they reach age 21, evidence suggests young people are less likely to take up smoking. At the same time, 18- to 20-year-olds currently are major sources of illegal tobacco for younger teens.
Butting-up against the obvious benefits of raising the tobacco age is the crass estimate that Washington would miss out on $10.4 million in taxes in its current cycle and $21.9 million in the 2017-19 budget period.
A few legislators also cite the unfairness of restricting tobacco use for an age group that serves in the military. This is about like saying they shouldn’t have to wear motorcycle helmets or fasten their seatbelts. Keeping young people off tobacco is one of the kindest steps legislators can take, irrespective of whether they are in the armed services.
So far, only Hawaii has enacted this smart and benevolent 21 tobacco age. Oregon, Washington and the rest of the nation should all get on board.