California is the nation’s most populous state one of two to raise the smoking age to 21. Sweeping tobacco control bills raising California’s smoking age to 21 and treating electronic cigarettes as tobacco products passed from California State Assembly on Thursday and should soon go before Gov. Jerry Brown.
California State Assembly lawmakers OK bill to raise smoking age to 21
These laws are aimed at keeping new smokers from initiating the habit. Nearly 90 percent of smokers started before age 18, so raising the legal age of purchase is meant to keep young people from trying it in the first place. Given that older peers often provide cigarettes to underage smokers, laws such as San Francisco’s may make that harder to accomplish. High school seniors will still be a few years away from being able to buy smokes for their sophomore friends.
It comes days after San Francisco officials voted to increase the legal age to buy tobacco products to 21, making it the second-largest city after New York City to do so. California State Assembly, Several other California jurisdictions, including the city of Healdsburg and Santa Clara County, have also raised their smoking ages.
Some of those jurisdictions have faced threats of lawsuits from tobacco sellers who say the statewide age of 18 trumps local ordinances that set it higher.
The smoking age hike was one of six measures aiming to restrict access to tobacco approved Thursday. Others would regulate electronic cigarettes like other tobacco products and allow local governments to tax tobacco.
After both measures stumbled in committee last year, legislators resurrected them through a special health care session. But Assembly Democrats declined to put them to a floor vote on the final night of the 2015 session after deciding during a lengthy caucus that they lacked the votes, according to legislators who were present.
By Thursday the time to act had dwindled. Landmark legislation allowing dying Californians to obtain lethal drugs, passed last year, cannot take effect until lawmakers end the special health care session. With a long-sought health care tax deal coming together this week, lawmakers faced increasing pressure to wrap things up.
After the bills passed, the Assembly voted to close the special session. The Senate is expected to follow suit next week, starting the clock for implementation of the assisted dying law.
Assembly Republicans moved to terminate the special session even before the bills could come up for a vote, arguing that Democrats were distorting the intent of the special session to ram through policy.
“This is an abuse of the process and it makes a mockery of the California State Assembly,” said Assemblywoman Kristin Olsen, R-Riverbank, who withheld votes on both bills.
Hanging over tobacco bills is a campaign for a $2-a-pack tax on cigarettes. A coalition of health care and labor groups is pursuing the tax via a ballot initiative, having failed to persuade lawmakers to impose the tax, and that same group issued a floor alert urging legislators to vote for the tobacco bills.
Assembly Democrats said raising the age to buy tobacco will prevent young people from taking up smoking and forming a lifelong habit. Proponents say it would make it much harder for teens to get access to tobacco because 18-year-old high school students would not be able to buy it for their underage friends.
“This will save the medical system in the outgoing years millions of dollars,” said Assemblyman Jim Wood, D-Healdsburg. “It will save thousands of lives.”
Republicans said the government should not restrict people’s freedom to make their own decisions.
“I don’t smoke. I don’t encourage my children to,” said California State Assembly, Assemblyman Donald Wagner, R-Irvine. “But they’re adults, and it’s our job to treat our citizens as adults, not to nanny them.”
The age to purchase tobacco would remain 18 for members of the military
Yet even seeing the data from the Institute of Medicine, and lauding the goal of decreasing youth smoking wholeheartedly, I still find myself pausing before joining the chorus praising these new laws. I’ll admit, it’s a bit of an uncomfortable feeling to be out of alignment with the American Academy of Pediatrics (of which I am a member), which supports a nationwide increase in smoking age to 21. But as much as I value efforts to increase public health, I also value letting people make their own decisions for themselves, even if I think those decisions are awful. It’s for similar reasons that I dissent from the Academy’s position on legalizing marijuana use for adults, as well.
I think smoking is the absolute worst. Even smoking in small amounts is terrible for you. Whenever I ask my teenage patients if they smoke (and I ask routinely at every well visit), those who say they do are told to make an effort to stop as promptly as possible.
The legislation now returns to the Senate, which must approve changes made in the Assembly before the legislation can reach the governor. A spokesman for Brown said the governor generally doesn’t comment on pending legislation.
However, those who put a premium on reducing it even further are likely to disagree with my position, and I certainly respect their perspective. The available data are encouraging with regard to the likely impact raising the smoking age will have on advancing that goal, and it’s a goal I sincerely want advanced. I’d just prefer to achieve it by continuing to convince as many teenagers as possible that it’s a gross habit to pick up in the first place.
Raising the age to buy tobacco would not be unprecedented. New York City and Hawaii have made the age 21, and the San Francisco supervisors voted earlier this week to do the same. Under threat of a lawsuit, the city of Healdsburg has suspended its ordinance boosting the age.
Major tobacco companies Philip Morris and R.J. Reynolds spent $1 million lobbying lawmakers in 2015. R.J. Reynolds also gave $240,000 to candidates and campaign committees last year, while Philip Morris contributed $1 million, including $200,000 to the California Republican Party.
Democrats who voted against or abstained on the tobacco measures received at least $26,000 from the two companies last year. In November and December, they gave a combined $35,000 to a ballot committee run by Assemblyman Adam Gray, a Merced Democrat who chairs the influential Governmental Organization Committee and voted against raising the smoking age to 21.
The two Republicans who voted for the bill, Catharine Baker of Dublin and David Hadley of Manhattan Beach, returned almost $11,000 in contributions from the tobacco companies over the summer.