On March 7 nearly 100 high school students descended on the state capitol in Olympia with a clear message for lawmakers: It’s time to raise the age to purchase tobacco products.
Students from Eastlake High School and Vashon Island High School came together to add their voices to the chorus of advocates calling on legislators to pass SHB 1054. This bill would raise the minimum legal purchase age for tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, to 21 years. As the youth shared with lawmakers, tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, are far too easy for youth to access. The Legislature can restrict this access by raising the legal purchase age to 21.
The students engaged in a variety of activities to educate and influence lawmakers; students created campaign commercials extolling the merits of raising the age and canvassed the capitol campus snapping selfies and posting them to social media to drive home their message with lawmakers. A highlight of the day was Governor Inslee’s address to the students. In personal and passionate terms, the Governor emphasized that passing this particular policy is perhaps the single most important thing lawmakers can do this session to protect and promote health among our state’s youth. He spoke of tobacco’s powerful addiction “enslaving” users for life and of the youth’s responsibility to engage in the political process to make things better for their community and future generations.
Research shows that 95% of regular adult smokers start before the age of 21. Preventing youth under the age of 21 from purchasing tobacco products can protect them from picking up this deadly habit and suffering a lifetime of tobacco-related chronic disease, like heart disease and stroke. Most notably, the bill’s effects are particularly powerful when looking at 15-17 year olds, who rely on older individuals in their social networks to obtain tobacco products. In fact, the Institute of Medicine published a report showing that by raising the age to 21 we can expect a 12% decline in adult smoking prevalence and a reduction in smoking-related deaths by almost 10%.
It was a powerful day for the students, realizing the strength of their own voice and catching a glimpse behind the scenes to see how advocates and elected officials influence policymaking. I look forward to keeping you updated as our Tobacco to 21 bill moves through the legislature.