Writings and observations

Age of judgment

idaho RANDY
STAPILUS
 
Washington

In some ways, the long-standing age at which people could smoke – 18 – has seemed an anomaly. Or the drinking age is; but setting one three years after the other seems a remarkable piece of inconsistency.
One which Washington state might address this year.
Or it might not since the address at hand is that of the state legislature, where the outcome of previously untried ideas is never certain.

The bill comes from Attorney General Bob Ferguson, whose statement points out, “The harmful consequences of tobacco are clear. Smoking kills 8,300 Washingtonians every year, and $2.8 billion in health care costs are directly attributed to tobacco use in the state. Washington state taxpayers pay nearly $400 million in taxes to cover state government expenditures caused by smoking. According to a recent report by the U.S. Surgeon General, over 100,000 of today’s Washington youth are projected to die prematurely due to the effects of smoking.”

The Senate and House bills have in-chamber (and majority party bipartisan) backing from Senator Mark Miloscia (R-Federal Way) and Representative Tina Orwall (D-Des Moines).

The states split up the elements of adulthood, declaring that people are old enough to do A but not B. People can vote, enter into contracts, join the military and marry at 18, but they cannot drink until they are 21. Why? A case might be made that the potential damage arising from bad choices in those other activities reflect mainly on the individual person, or (as in voting) is spread out widely, whereas a DUI case can put other lived at imminent risk.

Where does smoking fall along that theoretical continuum? It may be a gray area. As Ferguson’s statement notes, the major harm is medical. But we also know that bad medical decisions raises the cost and availability of medical care for us all. (We also know that more people become addicted to nicotine before 21 than after it; lifetime smoking habits usually begin by around age 18.)

At least, that’s one theory. Watch for the flashpoint to open into flame this session.

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