On Thursday, the California State Senate approved raising the smoking age from 18 to 21.
The Preventing Tobacco Addiction Foundation estimates that the first five years after raising the smoking age to 21 “would substantially reduce smoking in pregnancy and prevent approximately 530 cases of preterm birth and 1,300 cases of low birth weight.”
The Foundation estimated a savings of $102,000,000 in health care spending while the tobacco tax revenue loss would be $74,500,000. In June, Hawaii became the first state in the nation to raise the smoking age to 21. New York City raised the smoking age to 21 in 2013.
The hike in age for cigarette smokers was part of one of six anti-tobacco bills that the Senate sent to the Assembly. Some of the other provisions listed included banning electronic cigarettes from public places where smoking is prohibited, permitting counties to tax tobacco, completely banning tobacco in schools, and hiking licensing fees for tobacco sellers from a one-time fee of $100 to a $265 yearly fee. In addition, tobacco distributor’s annual licensing fees would be raised from $1,000 to $1,200.
Sen. Mark Leno (D-San Francisco), who offered the measure banning e-cigarettes, stated, “This is important because the fastest growing segment of the e-cigarette market is middle and high school students,” according to The Los Angeles Times. The tobacco industry countered Leno’s argument by noting that e-cigarettes use vapor, not combustible tobacco, do not pose the same health threat as normal cigarettes, and can be used to wean smokers from smoking.
Opposition was strong among GOP legislators, although Sen. Jeff Stone (R-Murrieta) voted for the bill, defending his position by saying many people close to him have died as a result of smoking.
Raising the smoking age piqued Pete Conaty, a lobbyist for the American Legion, who told the Times, “These people are adults who are willing to put their life on the line for their country and they ought to be able to go buy a pack of cigarettes if they want to.”
The bills were passed during a special session called to deal with healthcare; similar legislation was rebuffed by the Assembly Governmental Organization Committee Assembly, but the special session will allow the measures to do an end-run around the assembly.
The six bills have been championed by organizations including the California Medical Assn., the American Cancer Society, the American Lung Assn., and the Service Employees International Union.