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Does Raising Smoking Age To 21 Make A Difference?

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Flickr photo/Curran Kelleher (CC BY 2.0) HTTP://BIT.LY/1O4LD7V

State Rep. Tina Orwall just marked the two-year anniversary of her mom’s death from lung cancer.

“It’s a horrific way to lose someone,” Orwall, whose father also died of a smoking-related disease, told KUOW's David Hyde.

Now she wants to ensure that young people like her 17-year-old son and 20-year-old daughter aren’t ensnared by tobacco addiction. She’s pre-introduced a bill to raise the age to buy tobacco and vaping products in Washington to 21.

“I don’t want any kids in our state to have this struggle with an addiction throughout their lifetime and have these horrific diseases that we know are associated with tobacco,” she said.

Orwall, who represents Des Moines, Burien and other parts of south King County, says raising the age limit would make it a lot tougher for teenagers to buy tobacco.

“We know nine out of 10 adults who are smokers started before the age of 21. And so we do think that's the key window to really focus on,” she said.

Cities around the United States have raised the age to 21, including New York City and dozens of places in Massachusetts. Last June, the state of Hawaii became the first state to enact an age 21 limit.

Orwall says significant reductions in youth smoking are being reported.

“There's one city outside of Boston that had a 50 percent reduction,” she said.

The amount of support in the Legislature is unclear, though Orwall thinks her bill has a chance. One problem is the loss of revenue from tobacco-related taxes.

“I think the hurdle could be a financial hit to our budgets, and though that should not stop us from doing what's good policy, we do have to figure out how to address the loss of revenue,” she said.

Photo: “Cigarettes” by Curran Kelleher on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

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