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California Raises Smoking Age

With Gov. Jerry Brown signing a new anti-smoking bill into law on May 4, California will become the second state in the U.S. to raise the minimum age for buying tobacco from 18 to 21.

The Democratic governor's signature was the last step in a long-running campaign to raise the age. Starting June 9, retailers in the state cannot sell tobacco products -- including electronic cigarettes -- to anyone under the age of 21, according to ABC News. Any store caught selling to people under the legal age face fines of up to $5,000 and can have their tobacco licenses revoked for repeat offenses.

Anti-smoking and health groups praised the move, saying it will prevent a large number of young adults from taking up smoking as a habit. Other states may follow the lead of California and Hawaii, which was the first state to raise the minimum tobacco age.

"By increasing the tobacco age to 21, the nation's largest state provides incredible momentum to similar efforts nationwide," Matthew Myers, president of Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, wrote in a statement, ABC News reports.

Members of the U.S. military are exempt from the new California law, after some lawmakers said it was unfair to place the restriction on young adults who are otherwise viewed as mature enough to risk their lives in combat.

Representatives for e-cigarette companies -- and advocates who believe e-cigarettes are a less dangerous alternative to smoking -- criticized the state's politicians for lumping the vapor-producing products in with traditional, carcinogenic smokes.

"The bill is sending the deadly message to smokers that vapor products are just another form of tobacco," Gregory Conley, president of American Vaping Association, told ABC.

California's new law comes just days after a landmark British study, "Nicotine Without Smoke: Tobacco Harm Reduction," endorsed vapor as a harm reduction alternative.

"Large-scale substitution of e-cigarettes, or other non-tobacco nicotine products for tobacco smoking has the potential to prevent almost all the harm from smoking in society," the Royal College of Physicians concluded in the April 28 report, per Bloomberg.

But proponents of the bill said they have science on their side, at least when it comes to traditional tobacco products. In pushing for the bill, advocates cited a 2015 study by The Institute of Medicine that said pushing the legal tobacco age to 21 could deter up to 15 percent of would-be smokers from picking up the habit, ABC News notes.

Brown didn't comment on the legislation when he signed it into law.

"The action speaks for itself," Brown spokeswoman Deborah Hoffman said.

Sources: ABC News, Bloomberg BNA / Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

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