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Vape shop sees flaws in bill raising Washington smoking age to 21

Some small vaping businesses say a bill raising the smoking and vaping age in Washington would take away a popular cessation device for adults under 21.

FIFE, Wash. — Washington is close to becoming the ninth state to raise the smoking and vaping age to 21. A bill boosting the legal age to purchase tobacco and vapor products, regardless of whether it contains nicotine or now, passed the state Legislature this week.

Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson and the Washington State Department of Health have been pushing for the change, saying 95 percent of smokers start before the age of 21.

However, some small vaping businesses see flaws with the legislation.

“Our best customers quit us all together. We are like the Apple store meets an AA meeting. We are doing something different here,” said Kim Thompson, owner of The Vaporium.

Thompson, once a cigarette smoker herself, said she has products that help her customers stair-step down from nicotine addiction.

"We start them at a nicotine level that is closer to what they are currently taking in from their cigarette. As they get used to the vaporizer and their new habit, they can start to reduce their nicotine levels," she explained.

RELATED: Raising smoking age to 21 passes Washington Legislature

Thompson is also part of a non-profit called Pink Lung Brigade.

"The Pink Lung Brigade just started kind of like a 'bad news bears' group of business owners who really got into business to just help people quit smoking but ended up that they needed to have a voice at the capitol," Thompson said.

Lately, Thompson has been to Olympia a lot. One of the topics she's tackling is House Bill 1074, better known as T21.

"T21 wraps up tobacco and vapor products all under one bill," she explained.

The bill raises the legal age to buy those products from 18 to 21.

"It is going to impact those who are between 18 and 20, and they will not be able to use what has become a very popular cessation device," Thompson said.

While Thompson sees vaping as a way to stop smoking, Season Oltmann with the American Lung Association sees something else.

The federal Food and Drug Administration found that there e-cigarette use among high school students has been on the rise. In 2018, 20.8 percent of high school students across the country reported using e-cigarettes. That's a 78 percent increase from the year before.

In Washington, 21 percent of 10th graders reported using e-cigarettes in 2018, which was up from the 13 percent who reported using them in 2016.

"Tobacco in Washington contributed to 8,200 deaths last year in Washington alone, and this legislation is helping us save lives," Oltmann said.

"Tobacco in Washington contributed to 8,200 deaths last year in Washington alone, and this legislation is helping us save lives," Oltmann said.

Oltmann is in favor of the bill, which is awaiting Governor Jay Inslee's signature.

This week Gov. Inslee said in a tweet, "#Tobacco21 is the most preventative, cost-effective policy we can adopt to protect the health of our youth. I look forward to signing it."

"We have seen prohibition before, and what happens with prohibition is the black market goes up," said Thompson. "This particular bill does not cover internet sales, bordering states, or the 29 sovereign nations that are in Washington state." 

Thompson is making her opposition to the bill known in her business.

"We are going to just keep fighting," she said.

RELATED: Teen vaping at all-time high in Washington, survey finds

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