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You'll have to be 21 to buy cigarettes or vape products in Washington starting Jan. 1, 2020

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.

The changes come amid increasing concern about teens using vape products. More than 2,400 people have had to be hospitalized across the country due to vape-related lung injuries, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Most of those cases appear to be linked to vape products that contain THC, the main psychoactive ingredient in marijuana.

In Washington, there have been 21 cases of vape-related lung injuries since April. Use of vape products among teens in Washington has jumped in the past couple of years. In 2018, 30 percent of 12th graders reported using vapor products in the previous month, up from 20 percent in 2016.

Democratic state Rep. Gerry Pollet now wants to get the legislature to pass a permanent ban on flavored vape products, saying that flavors mask the taste of nicotine and serve to get young people addicted.

“We know that just raising the age alone isn’t going to be the cure for youth addiction, and it’s obvious that flavors are what’s really lucrative, and these companies do not want to give up flavors,” he said.

In response to the vaping-related lung illnesses, the state Board of Health in October approved a temporary ban on flavored vape products that may contain either nicotine or cannabis. The ban will expire in early February. Pollet has tried before to ban flavored vaping products but without success. He said he's working with the governor and the attorney general to try again in the coming legislative session.

“It will be a race to do so, and the vaping industry is very, very powerful,” Pollet said.

The vaping company Juul Labs is partly owned by the giant tobacco company, Altria. State campaign finance data show that Altria Client Services has contributed more than $140,000 to Washington lawmakers and political committees since July.

In July 2017, Ashley Gross became KNKX's youth and education reporter after years of covering the business and labor beat. She joined the station in May 2012 and previously worked five years at WBEZ in Chicago, where she reported on business and the economy. Her work telling the human side of the mortgage crisis garnered awards from the Illinois Associated Press and the Chicago Headline Club. She's also reported for the Alaska Public Radio Network in Anchorage and for Bloomberg News in San Francisco.