Brown signs law to increase minimum age to purchase tobacco

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On Wednesday, Gov. Jerry Brown signed two bills into effect that will raise the minimum age to purchase tobacco from 18 to 21 and reclassify electronic cigarettes as tobacco products in California.

Brown also signed three other bills, which further impose regulations on the tobacco and electronic cigarette industries by removing legal exemptions from smoking in indoor workplaces, requiring all schools to be tobacco-free and raising the state’s tobacco licensing fee. The new policies will be implemented on June 9.

Brown vetoed a sixth bill that would allow local governments to tax tobacco products at their discretion, citing his reluctance to add another tax amid the presence of several other tax proposals already placed on the 2016 ballot.

“The governor’s signature on Tobacco 21 is a signal that California presents a united front against Big Tobacco,” said state Sen. Ed Hernandez, D-West Covina, the primary author of the bill, in a press release.

While the new law will penalize the sale of tobacco to individuals under the age of 21, it does not include criminal penalties for those who are caught smoking under the age of 21. Furthermore, active military personnel are exempt from the new higher age limit.

Campus associate professor of public policy Jane Mauldon said she also believes the legislation is a policy response that seeks to alleviate the effects of smoking on the adolescent brain.

“The role of addiction in developing brains is very powerful, and cigarettes have a particularly powerful role in the developing brain,” Mauldon said. “This is an example of an age-graded policy, specifically responding to distinctive features of being a young adult and that one’s brain and one’s social identity are being formed.”

Mauldon said while she doesn’t believe using e-cigarettes is as harmful a practice as smoking tobacco cigarettes, the nicotine in e-cigarettes could establish them as a gateway drug to cigarettes, especially for adolescents.

Greg Conley, the president of the American Vaping Association, a nonprofit advocacy group for e-cigarettes, disagreed with the legislation that labeled e-cigarettes as tobacco products.

He also cited a recent study conducted by the Royal College of Physicians in the United Kingdom as evidence that vaping is distinct from cigarette use. The study reported that the health risk of smoking e-cigarettes was unlikely to exceed 5 percent of the harm from smoking tobacco.

Conley also explained how equating electronic cigarettes with tobacco usage negatively impacts those trying to quit smoking tobacco through the utilization of electronic cigarettes.

“It sends the deadly message to hundreds of thousands of smokers that vaping is just another method of using tobacco and that there is no alternative,” Conley said.

Alok Narahari is the lead business and economy reporter. Contact him at [email protected].