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California Set To Raise Tobacco Purchase Age to 21
By Madlen Grgodjaian, California Black Media
Published March 9, 2016

California could become the second state in the nation to raise the legal age for tobacco consumption to 21.

A package of tobacco control bills passed the Assembly floor on March 3 causing uproar amongst the parties. Senate Bill 7 increases the age of sale for tobacco from 18 to 21 and SB 5 regulates e-cigarettes as tobacco products.

A provision in SB 7 states active-duty military members are exempt and will be able to purchase tobacco related products at 18 with a military identification.

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Assemblyman Jim Wood (D-Healdsburg), the author of SB 7, said it’s estimated that nearly all smokers begin smoking before the age of 21.

“Adolescent brains are uniquely vulnerable to the effects of nicotine and nicotine addiction,” Wood said. “Fewer smokers means healthier people, healthier people means we spend less money on healthcare. The only loser in this equation is the tobacco companies and, in my opinion, they have won for long enough.”

Raising the purchase age to 21 nationwide would cost the tobacco industry nearly $2 billion in cigarette sales, according to a 2014 article in the American Journal of Public Health by Jonathan Winickoff, associate professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School.

The nation’s largest tobacco company Altria Group, Inc., opposed the legislation and wants the Food and Drug Administration to provide scientific findings to Congress before states consider legislative proposals.

“We believe states and localities should defer to this process and give the FDA and Congress the opportunity to evaluate this issue before enacting different minimum age laws,” spokesman David Sutton said.

Assembly Republicans moved to terminate the special session even before the bills could come up for a vote.

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“Is this a state that believes in the idea of individual liberty, in the freedom of choice, and that you can buy the products that you want even though they might harm you?” asked Assembly Minority Leader Chad Mayes (R-Yucca Valley). “I submit to you that we have moved beyond our basic ideals.”

Assemblywoman Kristin Olsen (R-Riverbank) withheld votes on the tobacco and e-cigarette bills disputing that Democrats were distorting the intent of the special session.

“This is an abuse of the process and it makes a mockery of the state Assembly,” Olsen said.

E-cigarette companies and industry groups have denounced efforts to treat their products as tobacco, contesting that they are smoking cessation devices.

“Our industry supports reasonable regulations, but not legislation that equates vapor products with tobacco,” Smoke-Free Alternatives Trade Association president Cynthia Cabrera said in an emailed statement. “Vapor products are fundamentally different than combustible cigarettes and do not contain tobacco. By equating the two, we miss a profound opportunity to reduce the public harm caused by smoking.”

San Francisco Board of Supervisors unanimously passed legislation last week that will set the minimum purchasing age of tobacco to 21 effective June 1.

Supervisor Scott Wiener, chief sponsor of the legislation, said raising the age will discourage young people from turning into lifelong smokers.

“This is a big win in the fight against the leading cause of preventable deaths in our country,” Wiener said. “For too long, we have seen the horrible effects that tobacco use has on our residents and particularly our young people. I’m proud that San Francisco has joined other cities from across the country in the Tobacco 21 movement, and I hope this will push California to increase the tobacco purchase age statewide.”

Opponents argued that city and county officials should not be able to outweigh California state laws.The bills will return to senate before receiving a final vote by Gov. Jerry Brown.

Republicans stoutly objected to the bill calling it incongruous to deprive 18-year-olds of tobacco when they can get married, vote, serve on juries, and join the military.

“You can give your life but you can’t buy a pack of cigarettes,” Mayes said.

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