California Raises Smoking Age To 21

| by Robert Fowler
A lit cigarette A lit cigarette

California law now prohibits the sale of tobacco products to anyone under the age of 21. It is the second state to raise the legal age for tobacco purchasers.

On May 4, Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown of California signed the a bill that criminalizes the sale of tobacco to residents under the legal drinking age into law. The governor also signed several other bills that will have ramifications on public smoking and the electronic cigarette market.

“[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 Democratic State Sen. Ed Hernandez of California, who authored the legislation, according to CNN.

Several organizations dedicated to public health, such as the American Heart Association, the American Cancer Society’s Cancer Action Network and the American Lung Association applauded the new law.

The bill, proposed by Sen. Hernandez, was entangled in the California Legislature for six months. Veterans groups and Republican lawmakers took issue with the legislation’s wholesale ban on selling tobacco products to anyone under 21, which would include military service members, The Christian Science Monitor reports.

They argued that if someone was old enough to fight and die for their country, they should be allowed to make their own decisions about their health. The legislation was amended to make military personnel exempt from the new age requirement.

Hawaii was the first state to place the higher age requirement on buying tobacco products, implementing the new law Jan 1. More than 100 U.S. cities also forbid selling tobacco to anyone under 21.

Researchers have found that raising the minimum age for tobacco sales could greatly reduce the amount of teenagers smoking or ingesting nicotine. The idea is that while an 18-year-old may share their cigarettes with their younger friends, 21-year-olds are not as likely to socialize with anyone under the age of 18.

“When you increase the minimum sales age, you’re not only reducing teenagers’ direct access to cigarettes,” said Shari Kessel Schneider of the Health and Human Development Division at the Education Development Center in Massachusetts. “You're also reducing the social sources who may be giving them cigarettes.”

Other laws signed by Gov. Brown also banned the sale of electronic cigarettes to anyone under 21 and placed new rules on where you are allowed to smoke vaporizers in public places. The Smoke-Free Alternatives Trade Association issued a statement slamming the law, stating that electronic cigarettes should not be lumped together with tobacco, calling age requirement “counterproductive to public health.”

On May 5, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced that it would institute a nationwide ban on selling electronic cigarette products to minors, the Washington Post reports.

Sources: The Christian Science Monitor, CNN, Washington Post / Photo credit: Fried Dough/Flickr

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