Public health victory – still work to be done

I have been fighting a growing public-health problem: youth smoking. I co-sponsored legislation in the Senate to raise the minimum age for purchasing tobacco products to 21; the House version of that change was approved in the Senate and was signed by the governor.

The new law will limit a young person’s ability to purchase a highly addictive product with long-term personal and societal costs. This ban on sales also includes “vapor” products, which are a growing problem in our schools.

However, the bill is not as comprehensive as we needed because youth can still purchase tobacco products at tribal-owned establishments or simply go across state lines and doesn’t include any prohibition for underage people to possess tobacco products.

I sponsored Senate Joint Memorial 8008, which was critical to close a loophole in the state’s efforts to curb youth smoking, but the House majority did not bring that measure to a vote, so they let it die this session. The joint memorial is really a petition to the federal government to take action.

I’ve just been informed that the U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has made this issue of youth tobacco use a priority. He had indicated that legislation is being drafted that would raise the smoking age to 21 nationwide.

McConnell said, ““I hope and expect this legislation to get strong bipartisan support in the Senate. As you know, I’m in a particularly good position to enact legislation and this will be a top priority.”

While we can definitely count this as a major public-health victory, there is still work to be done. I’m hopeful Senate Republicans in D.C. can help us finish the work left undone in Olympia.