OLYMPIA — People in Washington would have to be at least 21 to buy tobacco smoking or vapor products under a bill approved Thursday by a key House committee. Most vaping products would be taxed at the same rate as cigarettes under a separate bill.
The House Finance Committee voted 8-3 to raise the age of buying cigarettes, cigars or nicotine-infused vaping products by three years, with supporters saying it was an important way to cut addiction down the road.
“This bill is about saving lives and it is about science,” Rep. Gerry Pollet, D-Seattle, said. Studies have shown that parts of the brain that help resist nicotine addiction aren’t developed in teenagers, and when people get addicted before 21 “it is nearly impossible to quit.”
Rep. Ed Orcutt, R-Kalama, argued changing the law won’t stop teenagers from smoking, it will just force them to have older friends buy cigarettes, drive somewhere else where the age is lower, or steal them. That will hurt Washington stores that sell tobacco products but won’t really cut down on smoking.
Eighteen is also the age of consent for other things, including joining the military, Orcutt added: “If they can go and fight for our country, I’m not going to tell them they can’t have a cigarette.”
The committee also agreed on the same 8-3 vote to place taxes on vaping products equal to the 95 percent levy the state places on cigarettes. A portion of the estimated $40 million to be raised in the next two years would be placed in a special public health account which would include spending on smoking cessation efforts.
Excluded from the tax would be special cartridges designed to help people stop smoking, and marijuana vaping products.
Pollet said vaping products should have been subject to the same taxes as other nicotine products for years.
Rep. Cary Condotta, R-East Wenatchee, opposed the new tax saying it will force many vaping shops out of business. “If that’s what you want to do, wipe out this industry, this is the way to do it.”
The bills now go to the full House for consideration, and if they pass there, would also have to pass the Senate.