Paul Harris to reintroduce ‘Tobacco 21’ legislation in 2019 legislative session

As many Americans try to curb their smoking habit today as part of the Great American Smokeout, Rep. Paul Harris has taken the day as an opportunity to announce plans to reintroduce his “Tobacco 21” legislation in the upcoming 2019 session.

Harris' “Tobacco 21” bill would prohibit the sale of cigarettes, tobacco products and vapor products to people under the age of 21.

“Tobacco-related products are still prevalent on the school campuses. My goal is to keep tobacco products out of our schools and out of the hands of our young people,” said Harris, R-Vancouver. “The younger a person starts using tobacco or smoking increases the odds substantially that they become addicted to nicotine and end up with serious health issues as an adult.”

According to a 2014 U.S. Surgeon General's report, nearly 95 percent of smokers started smoking before age 21. The average age that a daily smoker has a first cigarette is 15, and the average age a person starts daily smoking is 18.

“We require people to be 21 to consume alcohol, yet despite nicotine being one of the most addictive substances known, we let people buy tobacco at age 18. I am hopeful that raising the tobacco sale age to 21 would delay young people's initiation to it and reduce the odds they get hooked on it and use it as an adult,” said Harris.

Since 2016, six states and at least 340 cities and counties have enacted “Tobacco 21” legislation.  Tobacco 21 laws have been enacted by Oregon, California, New Jersey, Maine, Washington, D.C. and Hawaii. A 2015 report by the National Academy of Medicine concluded that increasing the tobacco sale age to 21 would yield substantial public health benefits, with immediate and long-term benefits for the nation's health.

“There is a nationwide movement to increase the tobacco age to 21 and Washington needs to be recognized as a state that cares about its youth,” said Harris.    

Statistics from the state Department of Health show tobacco use and smoking causes $2.8 billion in annual health care costs, and 104,000 youth alive today may die from smoking.  

Last year, Harris' “Tobacco 21” legislation, House Bill 1054, passed the House of Representatives, but was late in the legislative session and the Senate did not have time to act on the bill.

Harris will begin his fifth term in the state House of Representatives when the Legislature convenes on Jan. 14.


Washington State House Republican Communications