California Legislature passes bill to raise legal smoking age to 21

Mikaela Raphael/Staff

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On Thursday, the California state Legislature passed Senate Bill 7, which will raise the minimum legal smoking age from 18 to 21 statewide if signed by Gov. Jerry Brown.

SB 7 was introduced last July by state Sen. Ed Hernandez, D-West Covina, as part of a legislative package that comprises six bills, all aimed at reducing tobacco use. In addition to raising the smoking age, bills in the package would classify electronic cigarettes as tobacco products and allow local governments to levy additional taxes on such products.

Joel Moskowitz, director of the campus Center for Family and Community Health, noted the importance of reducing overall tobacco use by targeting efforts at adolescents. According to Moskowitz, 95 percent of smokers pick up the habit before turning 21.

“If they don’t start as adolescents, as young adults, they’re probably not going to take up smoking,” Moskowitz said.

The package of legislation was introduced last summer when Brown called an extraordinary session to address a funding gap in Medi-Cal and its long-term costs, according to Lindsey Freitas, senior director of tobacco control and lung health at the California Center for Tobacco Policy and Organizing. Legislation aimed at preventing tobacco use, according to Freitas, would reduce tobacco-related illnesses and lower health care costs, which are often paid for by public Medi-Cal funds.

Brown is unable to comment on pending legislation, according to spokesperson Deborah Hoffman.

Several state senators were skeptical about the bill’s effectiveness. State Sen. Patricia Bates, R-Laguna Niguel, said in an email that she was opposed to the bill on the grounds that people’s personal liberty should be protected regardless of the reported health consequences of tobacco use.

“I’m sure plenty of minors are smoking without concern about the current minimum age of 18,” said Sen. John Moorlach, R-Costa Mesa, in an email, regarding compliance with the bill. “I don’t expect human nature to change, whether in or out of a university.”

Moskowitz, on the other hand, is confident that the bill would have a significant impact on smoking prevalence, despite some inevitable noncompliance. Moreover, the bill would require minimal implementation costs, according to Paul Ramey, spokesperson for the principal coauthor of the bill, Assemblymember Jim Wood, D-Healdsburg.

Freitas also noted the importance of local momentum in places such as UC Berkeley for generating support for legislation aimed at raising the smoking age. Rob Crane, president of the Preventing Tobacco Addiction Foundation, added that it has generally been easier to raise the minimum smoking age at local levels because members of City Council are less likely than state legislators to receive large donations from cigarette companies.

“I think, across the board, we will see substantial improvements in people’s health, life expectancy (and) decreased medical care costs,” Moskowitz said.

Contact Anna Dell’Amico at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @adellamico_dc.

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  • jhn316

    Wow your liberalism is hard to hide. Angry when people tell you to let them think for themselves.

  • Ryan Dusenbury

    Hmm… You ever hear that you wouldn’t want history to repeat itself? With this new law being placed its just like being in the depths of abolition. When you’re telling a teen not to do something, there’s a higher chance that the teen will do it. Think like a kid. We’ll smoke behind the governments back because we have friends over 21 that will be willing to buy us a pack of cigs. How will they enforce this law anyways??! I don’t think Raising the smoking age will stop teenagers from smoking, it’s just an inconvenience.

  • Wulf-payton Cole

    A girl can get an abortion but cant choose to put poison in there body that is hypocritical in my book

    • jhn316

      Awesome point!

  • West Street

    and it wont stop a single 18 year old or younger from smoking. Notice how bans have stopped all the drugs in California? LOL

  • Wulf-payton Cole

    Major smoke shops are not going to care if a law is passed making the smoking age 21. At this point people will be paying other individuals to buy there cigarettes and vape products. The tobacco companies still benefit. The injustice is the vaping industry. Being a new and safer alternative to tobacco, though nothing is known about it, what we do know it is the scientifically the better of the poisons. Demarcates being pro choice and trying to push for abortion should know know how bad it looks that a girl can go out and get an abortion being her choice, But CAN NOT chose weather or not they want to put poison into there body.

    Me choosing the better of the two poisons Support the vaping industry and have invested money into vaping and know the benefits and not buying low grade liquids, I know that there are perks vaping over smoking tobacco.

    And knowing that kids are going to want to buy cigarettes and vape products even more if the law is passed as i know that younger kids like to live more on the rebellious side.

    The bill does not stop the Smokers but it stops the vapers

    the cost of a pack of cigarettes after taxes is about 6 bucks or less. But a cheap vape pen or hookah pen cost about 40 bucks.

    Being better than the more expensive alternative kids are more likely to buy cigarettes. The tobacco companies Win in the case of trying to drive off the vaping industry in California

  • Brian Carter

    From the New England Journal of Medicine, the most respected medical journal in the world: “A compelling argument for the translational value of the brain disease model of addiction is the knowledge that the prefrontal and other cortical networks that are so critical for judgment and self-regulation do not fully mature until people reach 21 to 25 years of age. As a result, the adolescent brain is much less able to cognitively modulate strong desires and emotions, and is acutely vulnerable to addiction. This observation is particularly relevant to the establishment of 21 years of age as the legal drinking age in the United States, a ruling that is often questioned even though a dramatic reduction in highway deaths followed its institution. The study of the neurobiology of addiction provides a strong case for leaving the drinking age at 21 years and for increasing the legal smoking age to 21 years, by which time the brain networks that underlie the capacity for self-regulation are more fully formed.” This is an important and beneficial policy that will help keep our youth healthy.

  • M2000

    So the hypocritical Left wants to lower the voting age to 17, but then have the same ignorant people vote them in to raise the smoking age to 21…how the heck do you explain that?

    • ShadrachSmith

      If everything is illegal, and everybody breaks the law, selective enforcement is more fun for the Social Justice Warriors.

    • Dayne

      Both sides are hypocritical, all I care about is that If Im old enough to have a job, pay taxes/bills, vote, etc. I should be able to decide if I want to fill my lungs with smoke, if I get cancer and lung disease that’s my fault, I’ll have to live with the consequences, not to mention I can’t even count how many people I know that smoke and are 15+, people didn’t care about the 18 year age limit, raising it to 21 won’t do anything except piss off 18-20 year olds that could do it legally -_- younger than 18 nothing changes, it was illegal then, its illegal now, all thats changed is where I could do it, for some reason people want to take that away. -_-

  • charlie

    If there are existing bans on children possessing tobacco those are never ever enforced. That’s not going to change because police pay and benefits depend on taxes and kids who smoke pay substantial taxes. Police will enforce a ban on e-cigarettes because they don’t pay the big taxes. This legislation has the appearance of the big government tobacco drug dealer protecting their business. Hypocrites.