Tobacco | KNKX

Tobacco

Washington Department of Health

In about one more week, people under the age of 21 will no longer be able to buy cigarettes or vaping products in Washington.

A new Washington law that makes it illegal to sell tobacco or vapor products to anyone under age 21 goes into effect on Jan. 1. 2020. That will be the case across the country later next year because of a measure just approved by Congress and signed into law by President Donald Trump.

Young smokers in Washington state may have trouble getting a pack of cigarettes in the near future. State lawmakers are considering raising the minimum age to buy tobacco and vapor products from 18 to 21.

Just a couple of decades ago, there might have been an ashtray on your restaurant table, while bartenders with cigarettes hanging out of their mouths poured your cocktails. However, the rise of smoke-free bars and restaurants across the U.S. means that most diners no longer have the scent or taste of tobacco mingling with their grilled salmon or crème brûlée — and many would say that's a good thing. Besides being unhealthy, smoking also appears to mess with taste perception.

The legal age to purchase and use tobacco in Oregon would rise from 18 to 21 under a measure under consideration in the legislature. A similar measure is under consideration in Washington state this year.

California's decision to legalize marijuana was touted as a victory for those who had argued that the state needed a system to decriminalize, regulate and tax it.

But the new law, approved by voters on Nov. 8, also could be a boon to the tobacco industry at a time when cigarette smoking is down and cigarette companies are looking for ways to expand their market, according to researchers in Los Angeles County and around the state.

Oregon is the only Northwest state that doesn't require businesses selling tobacco products to be licensed. One lawmaker is introducing a bill that would change that.

Julio Cortez / Associated Press

If you’re trying to quit smoking and you don’t have health insurance, it’s going to be harder to find help as of August 1. The state’s free tobacco quitline will be cutting services to the uninsured, due to budget cuts.

Those without insurance can get a little bullet-point advice from the quit counselor, but after that, they’re on their own. State Health Department spokesman Tim Church said the cutbacks will harm some of the most vulnerable.

Department of Health

For the first time since 1998, Washington is getting a new secretary of health. Mary Selecky is retiring, and her replacement starts today.

Selecky has been a familiar face during health emergencies, such as the pandemic flu. She made tobacco her top health priority, and saw smoking rates drop year after year. But, as she steps down, the anti-smoking crusade is at a crossroads.

John Froschauer / AP

Washington banned indoor smoking nearly seven years ago, but one exception survives: hookah lounges.

Local health departments have struggled to shut them down. 

The lounges say they’re private clubs, not public venues, so the law doesn’t apply. They all charge some sort of membership fee, typically about $5.

That defense doesn’t sway health officials, like Frank DiBiase of the Tacoma Pierce County Health Department. His office inspected three hookah bars in Tacoma last year.

Anthony Posey / Flickr

Youth smoking is re-emerging as a concern in Washington. The US Surgeon General came to Seattle this week to give a pep talk to anti-smoking campaigners, who are coping with three years of drastic budget cuts.

If it seems like smoking is already on a perpetual decline, that's a mis-perception, said assistant Surgeon General Patrick O’Carroll, in an interview:

Smoking is banned at work. It’s banned in restaurants and bars. But most smokers can still head home and enjoy as many cigarettes as they’d like. That’s starting to change, when it comes to apartment buildings. 

montchr / Flickr photo

The ability to smoke a cigarette on college campuses is becoming a subject for the history books.

Several colleges in the Pacific Northwest have banned smoking – not only in and around buildings as required by law – but everywhere on school grounds.