By Erica Young
West Virginia Press Association Capitol Reporter
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Three West Virginians spoke before the Senate Health and Human Resources Committee Tuesday, urging its members to pass SB 348, which would raise the legal age of tobacco purchase in the state from 18 to 21.
She said, “I have watched (my friends and family) become more and more sick … I have grown up watching my friends discover e-cigarettes, vapes, and Juuls, and it’s tough watching people you love battle addiction,”
Dr. Charles Frederic Whitaker, a Parkersburg physician, said he has seen firsthand how exposure to tobacco at a young age can cause health problems. Whitaker told the story of his son-in-law, who never smoked, but was diagnosed with renal cell carcinoma at 40 due to growing up in a home where his parents smoked three to five packs a day.
“I’d like to say no smoking at all … we’ve got to protect our kids. I would like no smoking in the houses they live in. That’s not going to fly. I know that. But we can do it in our vehicles and we can prevent it from being sold to them,” Whitaker said.
Dr. Cathy Slemp, commissioner for Public Health with the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources, explained to the senators the United States military is working on becoming tobacco free and sees the use of tobacco as a “fitness and readiness issue.”
She also stressed the importance of the impact this bill’s passage could have on the state as a whole.
“I really think that you as a legislature here have a historic opportunity to really make a strategic investment in the future of West Virginia.”
Ultimately the committee moved to report the bill to the judiciary committee with the recommendation that it passes.