Washington could be first state to raise smoking age to 21

OLYMPIA, Wash. -- A state house committee held a public hearing Wednesday on a bill that could make Washington the first state in the nation to raise the smoking age from 8 to 21.

The bill being pushed by Attorney General Bob Ferguson who says smoking kills 8,000 people in the state every year, while costing billions in health care costs. Ferguson believes this bill could change all of that.

"We know that 95-percent of teens who don't smoke by the time they're 21, never end up smoking," said Ferguson. "It's really important we are limiting access in those teenage years."

The bill is sponsored by Representative Tina Orwall. She's a mother to two teens and a daughter to two parents who she says died from smoking.

"They both died of horrific illnesses related to smoking which is a hard way to lose a parent," said Orwall, who also pointed out research that shows the brain is still developing between 18 and 21, and young people are very susceptible to nicotine addiction.

No one from the tobacco industry showed up to the hearing to offer another side to the debate if the bill is passed. The loss in taxes is estimated at around $20 million a year.

Ferguson believes, in the long run, the state would save billions in health care costs.

New York City and Honolulu County in Hawaii have already passed laws making smoking age 21 and above. Legislatures in four other states are also considering raising the age to 21.