There's a new effort to raise the minimum age to buy tobacco products from 18 to 21. It argues that you have to be 21 to buy alcohol and pot, so why not tobacco?
"It's considered to be the number one health issue of the country and it doesn't seem like we're dealing with it," said Pat Godfrey, lung cancer survivor and President of the King County Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Administrative Board.
The board wants the state Legislature to stand behind 21 as the new minimum.
"We've basically passed a resolution that cites some of the statistics that support raising the legal age to 21 years old state-wide and we are encouraging the Legislature to take up this issue and move forward in the interest of saving lives," said Godfrey.
In most states, the age in which you can legally purchase tobacco is 18. New Jersey, Alaska, Alabama, Utah and a few New York counties have set it at 19. In Texas, a bill to raise it to 21 is pending. You have to be 21 in two cities in Massachusetts to buy tobacco products.
Godfrey said their research has shown that nearly 90 percent of adult smokers started by the age of 18 and about 75 percent became daily smokers by 21.
"The scientific evidence is pretty solid that if you raise the age to 21 years old, it will help reduce the incidents of teen smoking. We're basically focusing on trying to reduce the addiction to tobacco products at an early age," Godfrey said.
Godfrey said that unlike states like California, Washington's anti-tobacco advertising has all but vanished - and that has a direct impact in the number of teens who decide to try smoking.
"In Washington state, at one point, we were number four in the low incidents of teen smoking. Now we're like number 34 and so, in the absence of mass marketing against tobacco products, teen smoking is on the increase," he said.
Godfrey wants to see more public awareness and outcry on the epidemic of teen smoking.
"I think the bottom line is that if we had a virus in the United States that was killing 480,000 people a year, that would be front page news every day. That's like 1,300 people a day dying from a cause that's directly traceable to a product," said Godfrey. "I think that's outrageous, actually."