Blowing smoke: Washington’s proposed smoking age law is misguided

For many, the infamous 18th birthday and coming-of-age celebration is accompanied by inhaling a frenzy of chemicals. However, this may soon come to an end for Washington residents.

As of late, legislation is making its way to lawmakers in Olympia proposing to raise the age to purchase and consume tobacco, including vapor products, from 18 to 21.

There is no debating the obvious health consequences of smoking and tobacco, but to alter the age to purchase and use tobacco would leave a bad taste in the mouth of many tobacco users and rightfully so.

What the state is attempting to do is simply reduce the amount of rights allowed to adults in the state.

The current law, as provided by the Washington State Legislature’s website, classifies distribution of tobacco or tobacco products, including vapor, to those under the age of 18 as a gross misdemeanor; a punishment with a maximum sentence of a year in jail and/or a $5,000 fine.

A punishment that has been on the books and working fine for years.

The arguments to sustain the current tobacco age restrictions largely parallel those behind the push to decriminalize marijuana, which Washington voters approved in 2012 with more than 55% of the statewide vote.

State and local law enforcement have bigger fish to fry than stopping individuals for underage tobacco possession and usage, inevitably wasting time and taxpayer money.

The bill is gaining bipartisan support in the state legislature and public opinion towards smoking and tobacco usage has shifted, according to an article published by Oregon Public Broadcasting on Jan. 8.

A public opinion, however, which seems more concerned about the minor annoyance of teen tobacco usage, a substance that is less harmful than many other substances teens will experiment with.  

Back in November of 2015, The Daily Evergreen reported on the WSU ban on all tobacco products on campus starting in the fall of 2016. Though the intentions are slightly different, the consequences of this ban and the proposed further regulations of tobacco purchasing would be the same—wasted resources and lack of enforcement.

Though the intentions are legitimate, those who seek to use tobacco products and are under the age of 21 will find a way to get their hands on products. Alcohol, a substance teens and college students are all too familiar with, is a prime example of that.

The regulation and enforcement of products that put young adults in immediate danger must take precedence over counterproductive and exhaustive legislation.

This also becomes an interesting scenario for cities, such as Pullman, which border a state with a tobacco age remaining at 18. Idaho, a state that is already a popular destination for tobacco and alcohol purchases due to low tax rates, could become even more popular as a 10-minute car ride could warrant a pack of cigarettes or a can of chewing tobacco for any WSU student who is under the age of 21.

Much to the dismay of many state legislators, some things simply cannot be regulated by the signing of a bill and the use of tobacco is one of them.