by James Poulos | June 5, 2015 4:45 am
Adding another bill to its reputation as a trend-setting Legislature, Sacramento has taken a big step toward raising the statewide smoking age to 21. By an overwhelming tally of 26 to 8, the state Senate voted to prohibit sales of tobacco products to those aged 18-20.
According to the bill’s supporters, the ban would be instrumental in dramatically reducing not only teen smoking but smoking in general. “Sen. Ed Hernandez, D-West Covina, said he introduced the bill, SB151, out of concern that an estimated 90 percent of tobacco users start before age 21,” the Los Angeles Times reported.
That statistic emerged from a recent Institute of Medicine study making the rounds in policy circles. Researchers suggested that “teen smoking could be curbed by 12 percent if the age limit was raised to 21,” as LAist noted, “making it harder for minors to find somebody to buy cigarettes for them.” In real numbers, the study concluded, the age-21 limit would ensure “more than 200,000 fewer premature deaths nationally for those born between 2000 and 2019.”
Although critics have pointed out that people older than 18 are adults eligible to be drafted and bound to signed contracts, the Times observed, momentum has gathered to raise the legal smoking age for reasons unrelated to consistency in the treatment of individual rights and responsibilities.
Tobacco-related illness has long represented a significant chunk of aggregate health care costs. For policymakers, that problem grows more serious the more those costs are shifted onto government and taxpayers. “Tobacco-related disease killed 34,000 Californians in 2009 and cost the state $18.1 billion in medical expenses, according to studies by UC San Francisco,” according to the Times.
Some evidence of the policy’s likely impact has accumulated in states where the smoking age was previously hiked. “Although most states set the minimum age at 18, Alabama, Alaska, New Jersey and Utah set it at 19, and some localities have set it at 21,” according to The Washington Post. “Higher age limits seem to correspond with lower smoke rates in these states; Utah and New Jersey also have among the lowest smoking rates in the country, No. 1 and No. 5, per Gallup, while Alaska has the most improved, and Alabama is somewhat of an outlier in the South, as it’s not among the states with the highest smoking rates, like its neighbors Mississippi and Louisiana.”
California could be the first state to deny tobacco to under-21s. But other western states could swiftly follow suit. According to KPPC, “Legislatures in Oregon and Washington are considering similar bills and lawmakers in Hawaii have passed a bill and sent it to the governor.” Among the localities setting the legal age at 21, Hawaii County has been joined by New York City.
Traditional tobacco products were not the only ones on the state Senate’s chopping block. SB140, introduced by state Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, also passed handily, on a 24-12 vote.
As the San Francisco Chronicle reported, that bill “would include e-cigarettes in the definition of tobacco products in order to prohibit the devices from being used at workplaces, schools and public places, just as tobacco products are under the state’s Smoke Free Act. SB140 would also make it a misdemeanor to provide e-cigarettes to minors.”
The tandem advance of the state Senate’s anti-smoking and anti-vaping bills raised the prospect that the two approaches would converge in the near future, raising the vaping age to 21. “California bans the sale of e-cigarettes to anyone under 18,” the Chronicle observed, “but Leno said young teens still have access to them and they are becoming increasingly popular among middle and high school students.” If Hernandez’s bill were to pass before Leno’s, vaping would automatically be restricted in the same manner as traditional cigarette smoking.
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