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Tobacco 21: What you need to know

As of January 1, 2020, it’s illegal for anyone under the age of 21 to purchase e-cigarettes, vapes, and tobacco products in the state of Washington. Engrossed House Bill 1074, sometimes known as “Tobacco [and Vapor] 21” or “Washington 21,” passed the House in February of 2019 with 66 votes for and 30 against the bill. It then went on to pass the Senate in March 2019, with 33 “yeas” and 12 “nays”. Governor Inslee signed it into effect last April, at a notable ceremony at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. This makes Washington the ninth state in the country to raise the smoking age to 21.

But why raise the age to 21? And why now? 

For one, Washington state has an all-time high of teenagers who vape, according to a 2018 Healthy Youth Survey. The reasoning goes that tobacco companies deliberately aim at the 18-20 age range, and always have. Back in a 1982 study, an R.J. Reynolds researcher stated, “If a man has never smoked by age 18, the odds are three-to-one he never will. By age 24, the odds are twenty-to-one.” The Department of Justice has even sued tobacco companies for marketing to youth before, among other problems, such as in the case of United States v. Philip Morris.

There is no grandfather clause for the bill, meaning smokers and vapers from 18-20 years old, even regulars, can no longer purchase tobacco products. This can pose a host of problems related to withdrawal and leave many feeling in limbo. It is also unclear whether this law applies to quitting-related products such as nicotine patches, lozenges, and prescription medications. King County Public Health and Swedish Medical Center have compiled lists of resources and ways of quitting for those who wish to. 

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