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Dispatches from public radio's correspondent at the Washington Legislature. Austin Jenkins is the Olympia correspondent for the Northwest News Network. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) weekly public affairs program "Inside Olympia."

Washington Attorney General Wants To Raise Smoking Age To 21

Austin Jenkins
Northwest News Network
Sarah Stewart, a senior at Mercer Island High School, speaks at a news conference to announce a bipartisan effort to raise the smoking and vaping age in Washington to 21.

Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson is renewing his push to raise the smoking and vaping age to 21. The Democrat announced the bipartisan effort Wednesday at a Capitol news conference.

Ferguson says a change in the law would save lives and health care costs.

“Every Washington household pays an average of $841 in state and federal taxes to pay for the health care costs of smoking even if no one in that household smokes,” Ferguson said. “The best way to prevent these deaths is to stop teenagers from starting to use tobacco products in the first place. And reducing access is the key.”

The measures would also raise the legal age to buy vaping products to 21. Ferguson’s call was backed by Sarah Stewart, a senior at Mercer Island High School.

“Every single day at my school when I’m leaving the parking lot I see students driving around in their cars vaping, passing it to other people in the vehicle, many I know who are not yet 18.”

Stewart is active in anti-substance abuse activities at her school. She believes raising the legal age to purchase vapor and tobacco products to 21 would reduce youth access -- especially in high schools.

“Eighteen-year-olds are still in the high school so you’re giving it to people that you see every single day, people you’re friends with,” Stewart said. “Twenty-one-year-olds don’t go to high school -- well we can hope that they don’t, right? And so that takes it out of the high school.”

Ferguson acknowledged that past efforts to raise the smoking age have failed. But he believes public opinion on the subject is changing. Legislation has been introduced in both the Washington House and Senate.

Since January 2004, Austin Jenkins has been the Olympia-based political reporter for the Northwest News Network. In that position, Austin covers Northwest politics and public policy, as well as the Washington State Legislature. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) Emmy-nominated public affairs program "Inside Olympia."