CALIFORNIA Gov. Jerry Brown on Wednesday, May 4, signed into law a package of bills that changes the state’s legal smoking age from 18 to 21, among other new regulations. The legislation makes California the second state in the nation, following Hawaii, to raise its smoking age to 21.
“[These laws] will save countless lives, reduce astronomical costs to the health care system, and cost very little because it uses existing enforcement mechanisms,” said Sen. Ed Hernandez (D-West Covina), who authored the bill to raise the purchasing age of tobacco products, on Wednesday. “Today was an enormous victory for not only this generation, but also for many generations to come who will not suffer the deadly impacts of tobacco.”
Also approved in the package were measures that place restrictions on where people can smoke and the sale of electronic cigarettes.
The bills have been praised as the “most expansive” effort to control tobacco use in California in more than 10 years. The package received support from health groups including the American Cancer Society, American Heart Association, California Medical Association and American Lung Association. Supporters also pointed out that tobacco is the leading cause of preventable death and is responsible for the deaths of up to 34,000 Californians each year.
In the package, Brown, however, vetoed a bill that would have allowed counties to seek voter approval of local tobacco taxes to pay for healthcare expenses for individuals with tobacco-related illnesses, the Los Angeles Times reported.
“Although California has one of the lowest cigarette tax rates in the nation, I am reluctant to approve this measure in view of all the taxes being proposed for the 2016 ballot,” Brown wrote in his veto message for a bill authored by Assemblyman Richard Bloom (D-Santa Monica).
An exemption for the legal smoking age exists for individuals in active military, who will still be allowed to purchase cigarettes at the age of 18.
In response to the bills, the tobacco industry has threatened to seek a referendum that would reverse the smoking age and lift the restrictions on e-cigarettes. Lawmakers, as a result, have made it harder to qualify a referendum.
Opponents of Brown’s approval, including the Smoke-Free Alternatives Trade Association, which represents electronic cigarette makers, criticized the passage of the bills on Wednesday. It said it would work to educate voters about the industry.
“California took a step backwards today by reclassifying vapor products as tobacco,” the association said in a statement. “Stigmatizing vapor products, which contain no tobacco, and treating them the same as combustible tobacco while actively seeking to economically penalize smokers attempting to switch is counterproductive to public health.”
A 2015 study by the Institute of Medicine estimated that boosting the tobacco purchase age to 21 will result in 200,000 fewer premature deaths between 2000 and 2019, and 50,000 fewer deaths due to lung cancer for people born in the same time period. (Agnes Constante / AJPress)