A new legislation would raise the legal smoking age to 21, and would be a powerful move to reduce youth tobacco use in Washington State.
It will prevent smoking-related disease and death for future generations.
To improve the health of all of Washington’s youth, we center equity in the requirements and implementation of Tobacco 21. The Healthy King County Coalition Tobacco, Marijuana, and Other Drugs (TMOD) work group has developed the following recommendations for an equitable Tobacco 21 law:
- Don’t punish youth for tobacco purchase or possession.
The tobacco industry blatantly targets youth. Laws that punish youth have little evidence to support their effectiveness, and they are a tactic to shift blame from the tobacco industry onto youth. Communities of color, LGBTQ, and low-income communities are already targeted by the tobacco industry, meaning that punishments will fall disproportionately on youth in communities that are already the most affected by these disparities. Fines and other civil and criminal penalties can have an adverse effect on youth and their families already struggling.
- Keep youth safe by avoiding armed confrontation.
Liquor and Cannabis Board enforcement officers carry guns. Current enforcement of sales laws can involve stopping people who appear under-age after they make a tobacco purchase. Raising the age of sales, these encounters will increase and with older youth and young adults.
The communities targeted by tobacco companies are also ones who experience unequal treatment from law enforcement. With increased encounters with officers, an incident could escalate and compromise the well being an LGBTQ-identified youth or youth of color. Enforcement can continue using compliance checks as well as establishing ongoing retailer and community education instead.
Tobacco 21 is not just a law; it is a norm change. With successful implementation, today’s tweens will adopt a worldview where eighteen to twenty year olds can’t buy tobacco. Risking the safety of a youth to catch one offense is not worth it.
- Invest in prevention and cessation for youth who could previously purchase.
Tobacco use causes nicotine addiction. Most people who smoke wish they could quit. Raising the age of legal of tobacco sales will have the strongest effect on youth entering their teens.
It is also an opportunity for eighteen to twenty year olds at the time of implementation to quit before continuing a lifelong addiction. An investment of adequate resources to support tobacco prevention education and cessation services is necessary.