Washington governor signs ‘Tobacco 21’ legislation

Cancer prevention impact highlighted at Fred Hutch signing ceremony
Photo of Gov. Jay Inslee seated at a table with a piece of paper in front of him, holding up a pen and smiling. He is surrounded by a crowd of children and adults, who are applauding
"We are going to save thousands of lives," said Gov. Jay Inslee as he signed the legislation at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center on April 5. Photo by Robert Hood / Fred Hutch News Service

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee signed the state’s new “Tobacco 21” legislation into effect on Friday in a ceremony at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. Starting Jan. 1, 2020, it will be illegal under Washington law to sell or give tobacco or vaping products to people under age 21.

Public health experts have said that the move will save lives by preventing adolescents and young adults from forming harmful habits. Washington joins nine other states that have passed similar laws since 2015.

Read more about Washington's new Tobacco 21 law and the research behind it in this recent feature story from Fred Hutch News Service.

”On behalf of all the children in the state of Washington, I am signing House Bill 1074, and we are going to save thousands of lives,” Inslee said as he signed his name to the legislation, surrounded by a crowd of youth advocates, state government officials and representatives of some of the organizations that have been lobbying for the legislation for years. These include the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, the American Heart Association, the American Lung Association and the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, as well as Fred Hutch and its clinical-care partner, Seattle Cancer Care Alliance. (According to the Office of the Attorney General, at least 68 organizations, municipalities and companies are public supporters of the Washington legislation.)

Photo of Attorney General Bob Ferguson talking with Dr. Gary Gilliland
Attorney General Bob Ferguson, left, speaks with Fred Hutch President and Director Dr. Gary Gilliland before the signing ceremony. Photo by Robert Hood / Fred Hutch News Service

“It’s been a long road, but it has been worth the wait,” said state Attorney General Bob Ferguson, who had advocated for the law. He thanked the many members of the coalition who had been involved in the legislation’s passage. “This bill embodies what it takes to get a big bill that will save lives and improve lives across the finish line.”

Cancer prevention impact

Aptly, the ceremony took place in a building that is home to the first National Cancer Institute-funded cancer prevention program in the United States. Research studies have projected that one of the law’s big impacts will be in preventing cancer. According to data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 27 percent of all cancer deaths in Washington state are caused by tobacco use, and almost all adult smokers become addicted to nicotine — which is contained in both tobacco and vaping products — before age 21. Other diseases caused by use of tobacco products include heart disease and lung diseases like emphysema.

Photo of Dr. Nancy Davidson speaking at a podium. Standing behind her are Jay Inslee, Patty Kuderer and Paul Harris.
Dr. Nancy Davidson, who holds Fred Hutch's Endowed Chair for Breast Cancer Research, opens the signing ceremony. Behind her stand the legislation's prime sponsors, Rep. Paul Harris and Sen. Patty Kuderer, and Gov. Jay Inslee (right). Photo by Robert Hood / Fred Hutch News Service

“This [legislation] is a significant public health victory,” said Fred Hutch Senior Vice President and SCCA President and Executive Director Dr. Nancy E. Davidson in her remarks at the ceremony.

The Tobacco 21 law passed the Washington Legislature on March 27. The legislation’s prime sponsor was Rep. Paul Harris (R-Vancouver), and the sponsor of the Senate companion legislation was Sen. Patty Kuderer (D-Bellevue). The bills were agency-requested priorities from the attorney general and the Washington State Department of Health. Harris and Kuderer and youth activists Cami Brix and Madison Langer, both Washington high school seniors, were among the speakers at the ceremony. Sen. Manka Dhingra (D-Redmond) and Rep. Tina Orwall (D-Des Moines), co-sponsors of the legislation, also attended.

Harris, a cancer survivor, asked members of the standing-room-only crowd to raise their hands if they, too, had been personally affected by cancer. Hands shot up throughout the room.

“I think that’s the reason this bill passed,” Harris said. “We all have a personal interest in this.”

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