The legislature in Washington state is reviewing a measure that might increase the age of smoking in Washington from 18 to 21. In Olympia, as is true in most cities around the world, e-cigarettes are gaining in popularity among adults as well as youths. This is evident in the increasing number of people bellowing out clouds of smoke on the street that comes not from real tobacco but from vaporized liquid containing nicotine.
This measure, which was proposed last Wednesday by Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson, is part of a more general initiative to promote making smoking less accessible and less attractive to minors. Addressing the age limitation on purchasing tobacco is important priority for members of this movement for a few reasons. As the Attorney General has reported, the brain is an organ that continues to be susceptible to addiction well into an individual’s late teens and early twenties. By increasing the age of smoking by three more years to the age 21, the Washington state legislature believes it may be giving individuals the opportunity to make better choices about beginning and/or continuing to smoke.
The appeal of cigarettes has long been an issue of concern. In the past, there have been concerns that Joe Camel, the camel on Camel cigarettes, was too appealing to a younger audience. There has also been a debate as to the cool persona of the Marlboro Man who advertised for Marlboro cigarettes. A current debate being discussed about whether cigarettes packages should be required by law to be plain because even making it illegal to smoke indoors, as was done in London in 2007 when 21 percent of adults were polled as smokers, only decreased this percentage to 20.5 percent by 2012. This is a negligible difference in the eyes of supporters of the age limit increase.
The Washington measure, which would cost the state $20 million in tax revenue annually, is part of the same public policy movement that has governments rallying for cigarettes packages to be covered in harsh images of tobacco caused cancers. The trouble with these packaging tactics is that they are largely unproven as having any effect on buyers. The invincible teenager is still present in today’s society.
Another potentially larger concern to those monitoring nicotine consumption by minors as well as adults is the e-cigarette. These mechanical devices are tech-savvy and appeal to a younger generation, which is why supporters feel this measure is all the more important. The consumption method is rather simple. One places a cartridge of nicotine-rich liquid into the vaporizer apparatus, presses a button, and begins to inhale the vapor. The average cartridge has between 6 and 18 milligrams of nicotine, which is between one-half and one and one-half cigarettes packs.
The disconcerting issue with e-cigarettes is that little research has been done to determine the health risks. While it is well documented that there are more than 7000 chemical in tobacco when it burns, of which 250 are harmful, and of those 69 cause cancer, this type of data just is not available for e-cigarettes. Beckie Lies with the Tobacco Control of Elhart County Coalition in Indiana explains that there are already some warnings about the toxic, some carcinogenic, substances which are contained within many e-cigarettes, but that they are such a new item that considerably more research needs to be done to determine exactly how much nicotine users are consuming and what quantities of other possibly harmful substances are contained within as well.
The Washington state legislature has been given the opportunity to make Washington the only state to raise the smoking age from 18 to 21. The attractiveness of e-cigarettes to youths only compounds an issue that has been fought by parents and public officials for far too long. By increasing the smoking age to 21 the legislature can separate the addictive chemical nicotine from potential addicts for a few years longer giving their brain a head start.
By Joel Wickwire