State bill would raise legal age for buying tobacco

Washington could become seventh to increase limit

OLYMPIA — State legislators have tried and failed in past sessions to raise the minimum legal age for buying tobacco and vaping products from 18 to 21.

This year, Washington state might be on track to become the seventh state to up the limit.

As the second week of the 105-day legislative term ended Friday, the North Olympic Peninsula’s legislators, all Democrats, said they will support Tobacco 21 legislation, SB 5057 in the Senate and HB 1074 in the House.

The 24th District’s three representatives, state Sen. Kevin Van De Wege of Sequim, state Rep. Steve Tharinger of Port Townsend and state Rep. Mike Chapman of Port Angeles said Friday they all support the legislation and believe the restriction has a good chance of passage.

SB 5057 passed out of the Senate Health and Long Term Care Committee last week and could be one of the first bills during the session to reach the floor, predicted Van De Wege, who serves on the committee.

The idea of increasing the age limit has had rough going the past four years, but that could change.

“I just think there’s more of a feeling we need to do something,” Van De Wege said.

Chapman, a member of the rules committee, which considers all bills reported from policy and fiscal committees, noted that the bill has a heavy-hitting backer.

The tobacco giant Altria is supporting similar legislation in tobacco country — its home state of Virginia.

“We have advocated for strong minimum age laws in all U.S. jurisdictions,” Amanda Klump, of Altria Client Services, said in a Jan. 15 letter to the House Committee on Health Care and Wellness, on which Tharinger serves.

Klump cited a downward trend in conventional tobacco products and an “alarmingly” upward increase in use of e-vapor products of 80 percent among high-schoolers and 50 percent among middle-schoolers.

Chapman said Altria’s support is key to the measure’s passage.

“This is probably one of those bills that’s a foregone conclusion,” he said.

Nearly one in five women in Clallam County — 17 percent — smoked cigarettes while they were pregnant in 2015, more than double the state average of 7 percent, former county Health Officer Chris Frank told Peninsula Daily News on Jan. 29, 2018.

Frank said Clallam County 10th- and eighth-graders also reported smoking at rates more than double the state average — 13 percent of 10th-graders and 6 percent of eighth-graders.

Tharinger, a member of the appropriations committee, and Van De Wege said Friday the state could be looking at a loss of about $6 million to $12 million in revenue annually, although the fiscal impact has not been precisely quantified.

“We need to do something on this regardless of the cost,” Van De Wege said.

The House version is sponsored by 17th District Rep. Paul Harris, a Vancouver Republican and the minority caucus chair.

It passed Friday out of that chamber’s Health Care and Wellness Committee, on which Tharinger has served for six years.

“We looked at it the last few sessions, but this session we got it done,” Tharinger said.

“It has pretty broad support.

“The data is really clear around how to prevent teen smoking by raising the age.

“Eighteen- and 19-year-olds is where 14-year-olds get [smoking products],” Tharinger said.

The legislation will go to the appropriations committee, then the rules committee, then the floor.

Also voted out of the House Health Care and Wellness Committee was a bill allowing the establishment of long-term health services accounts.

Geared toward taxpayers roughly 35 to 55 years old, the legislation would allow them to build accounts to pay for a family caregiver, body care and travel.

“It had strong bipartisan support of committee,” Tharinger said.

In other health-oriented legislation, Van De Wege said he supports SB 5345, which would require health insurance plans to cover a wider range of options for women who undergo mastectomies, including the removal of the second breast as a prophylactic measure against developing cancer there after cancer has been treated in one breast.

SB 5345 was introduced Jan. 17 to the Senate Health and Long Term Care Committee, on which Van De Wege sits.

He’s also a sponsor of SB 5578, which aims to reduce threats to Southern Resident orcas by improving the safety of oil transportation with the assignment of additional tug escorts to guide tankers through the Strait of Juan De Fuca and Puget Sound.

The bill, in the Senate Committee on Environment, Energy and Technology, is scheduled for a hearing Tuesday.

Chapman and Tharinger are sponsoring a bill to modify business and occupation tax provisions to help rural manufacturers, HB 1348, which is scheduled for a hearing Wednesday before the Rural Development, Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee, on which Chapman sits.

The bill would lower the manufacturing tax rate.

Chapman said it’s only fair that small manufacturers, with $50 million or less in manufacturing activity, have the same tax rate as Boeing.

HB 1348 “has strong bipartisan support,” he said.

There’s no companion Senate bill, “but there may be,” Chapman added.

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Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at [email protected].

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