Legislature raises CA smoking age to 21; pending Brown’s signature


CigaretteTriggering the sort of speculation about nationwide change California’s new regulations often inspire, legislators approved bills raising the legal age for smoking and vaping to 21.

“The California state Senate voted Thursday to raise the legal age to buy and use cigarettes and other tobacco products from 18 to 21 years old,” Slate noted. “The anti-smoking legislation had already been passed by the state Assembly and is now just the governor’s signature away from making California only the second state (along with Hawaii) to raise the age individuals can consume tobacco products, including e-cigarettes and smokeless tobacco.”

Domino effect

Analysts swiftly turned attention to the likelihood of other states adopting similar rules. Already, the Associated Press reported, “dozens of cities, including New York and San Francisco, have passed similar laws of their own.” Thomas Carr, the American Lung Association’s director of national policy, told the Huffington Post he suspected “Massachusetts and New York are likely candidates” to follow suit, “since their biggest cities have raised the smoking age to 21 in recent years.” But some observers, according to the Huffington Post, have noted that cigarette use tends to plunge more as a result of higher taxes than age restrictions.

Only one loophole survived California’s new strictures. “American law and custom has long accepted that people can make adult decisions on their 18th birthday and live with the consequences,” opponents insisted, according to the AP, noting that the milestone permits Americans to “register to vote, join the military, sign legally binding contracts, consent to sex and do just about any legal activity besides buying alcohol. In response, Democrats changed the bill to allow members of the military to continue buying cigarettes at 18.”

That concession granted, the legislation advanced. “The higher age limit, part of a package of anti-tobacco bills, won approval despite intense lobbying from tobacco interests and fierce opposition from many Republicans, who said the state should butt out of people’s personal health decisions, even if they are harmful,” the AP noted.

A vape crackdown

TBEC Review / flickr

TBEC Review / flickr

Perhaps the most significant change ushered in by the six interrelated laws making up the suite of anti-smoking legislation — assuming they receive Gov. Jerry Brown’s signature — affects electronic cigarettes, “classifying them as tobacco products. ‘Vaping’ devices are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, and critics have described them as a gateway to more harmful, combustible tobacco,” the Orange County Register noted.

“The bill passed by the Legislature classifying e-cigarettes as tobacco products would subject them to the same restrictions on who can purchase them and where they can be used, meaning they would be banned from bars, workplace break rooms and hotel lobbies.”

“Among Orange County teens, the 2014 California Healthy Kids Survey found that 9 percent of 11th-graders polled had smoked cigarettes, while 20 percent reported vaping e-cigarettes,” the paper added. Vapes have been big business in California, driven by shifting preferences among consumers largely convinced that e-cigarettes offer a less hazardous product with a comparably enjoyable experience to traditional tobacco smoking.

Foregone conclusion

Although the governor’s office declined to comment on the likelihood of the bills being signed into law, overwhelming support among Sacramento Democrats has cemented the view that Brown won’t stand in their way. “An expanded ban on smoking in workplaces and permission for counties to begin introducing local taxes on tobacco sales were among the other proposals passed Thursday, almost entirely with support from Democratic lawmakers,” the Sacramento Bee reported. “The only proposal to attract notable opposition from Democrats was the expanded ban on smoking in workplaces, which will remove exemptions for hotel lobbies, warehouse facilities, gaming clubs, bars and businesses with five or fewer employees.”

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