Young smokers at Clark may want to consider quitting before they’re forced to.
The Washington State Department of Health is urging the state to pass Tobacco 21 legislation that would raise the purchasing age of tobacco to 21. House Bill 1054 and Senate Bill 5025 aim to “take cigarettes and vapor products out of the hands of our kids and prevent a new generation of kids from becoming addicted to nicotine,” according to the DOH.
One reason for raising the age is to limit underage smoking. While minors cannot legally purchase tobacco, the bill notes that it’s easy for them to obtain it in other ways. Washington State Secretary of Health John Wiesman said 75 percent of teens aged 15 to 17 get tobacco from social connections who are 18 to 21.
“Sometimes they’ll pay others to go get tobacco for them,” Wiesman said, adding that minors often ask older siblings, coworkers, classmates and friends.
“We want to squeeze that pipeline,” DOH Public Information Officer David Johnson said. “So we don’t have young kids in highschool becoming addicted to nicotine. The younger they begin, the harder it is to quit.”
A report by the Center for Disease Control identified smoking as the leading cause of preventable death in the United States, and the cause of 90 percent of lung cancer cases.
The House bill cites a report by the National Institute of Medicine which predicted that raising the minimum purchase age of tobacco products to 21 could cut the national smoking rate by 12 percent, and smoking-related deaths by 10 percent.
Bonnie Sarkinen, Clark’s nurse practitioner, said that most smoking-related deaths come with long-term impacts like heart disease, lung disease, lung cancer and general cancer which aren’t caused by tobacco alone. There are many more deadly chemicals in cigarettes, including formaldehyde and arsenic.
Short-term impacts of tobacco are even harder to ignore than the long-term ones: tobacco destroys the larynx, teeth, gums and speeds up the aging process, Sarkinen said. “It can cause you to lose the elasticity in your skin, so it makes you get wrinkles earlier.”
The bill applies to e-cigarettes and vapor products too.
“They have nicotine in them, which we know is highly addictive,” Wiesman said of e-cigarettes. “I think there’s this misconception that it’s safe, but that’s false.”
Sarkinen said that as an ER nurse at Legacy Salmon Creek Hospital she often sees a link between vaping and cases of youth pneumonia.
Some smokers at Clark expressed conflicted feelings about the bill. While they recognize it could decrease the number of youths addicted to nicotine, they said problems caused by withdrawal cannot be ignored.
The bill, if passed, will become effective in January 2018. Wiesman hopes those impacted by the bill would seek nicotine addiction counseling.
Sarkinen also stressed readily available quitting resources, such as the national hotline 1-800-QUIT-NOW.
Wiesman passionately endorsed the bill, saying “There is no single policy the legislature could adopt this session that would do more to protect the health of our kids than to increase the minimum purchase age of tobacco to 21.”