California Raises Smoking Age to 21

Chelsea Viola/TBL illustration

Chelsea Viola
Staff Writer

On May 4, California Gov. Jerry Brown signed pivotal anti-tobacco legislation, raising the legal smoking age to 21 and implementing stringent restrictions on e-cigarettes.

The bills signed on Wednesday make California the second state in the U.S. to raise the smoking age to 21, with hopes to facilitate a legislative trend across the country.

Brown signed five bills that will take effect on June 9. The legislation will regulate e-cigarettes like traditional cigarettes, expand smoking restrictions at workplace and school properties, and raise the tobacco purchasing age from 18 to 21 (with the exception of active military personnel).

The growing disapproval of the tobacco industry was an influential push for the Democratic-controlled legislature to pass these laws. Smoking is on the decline during this day in age; according to a 2014 study by the Center of Disease Control, 16.8 percent of American people ages 18 to 24 are smokers, an improvement from the 20.9 percentten years prior.

Educating the public on the dangers of smoking has contributed significantly to the downturn of tobacco’s societal presence. Anti-tobacco education programs of the American public education system and anti-smoking campaigns like have been reaching out and informing youth about the dangers of smoking.

California’s new tobacco legislation was implemented to crack down on the tobacco industry and their consumers. “It’s been decades since we’ve actually done anything to reduce tobacco use,” said Sen. Ed Hernandez, D-Azusa, the author of the bill raising the smoking age.

This legislation is brought up as an issue of practicality — will raising the smoking age to 21 actually bring an end to smoking?

Some would argue yes. The rationale behind the legislation is to prevent people from forming smoking habits. A 2011 study by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration found that “more than three-quarters of adult smokers transitioned to regular, daily smoking before they turn 21.” Limiting the accessibility of cigarettes to the younger population would create an additional deterrent from smoking.

The opposition of the bill would say otherwise. “I get the sentiment behind it,” said Ben Neupane, a first-year economics major, “but this would only push kids to circumvent the law. People would just revert to other illegal methods just to buy cigarettes.”

Bill Dombrowski, the President and CEO of the California Retailers Association, shares a similar stance, “we’re worried about a black market formation and the shift of sales to this black market.”

Additional controversy has arisen from the newly passed legislation regarding the new restrictions on e-cigarettes.

Electronic cigarettes, or vapes, have been a popular alternative to cigarettes. Instead of burning tobacco, cartridges of nicotine and other chemicals are turned into vapor. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there are approximately nine million adult consumers of e-cigarettes.

The nicotine of e-cigarettes has the same addictive effect and subsequent withdrawal symptoms as regular cigarettes. The main concern of e-cigarettes is the various chemicals added to the cartridges. Since e-cigarettes are fairly new to the public, the studies of their long-term effects on health are still inconclusive.

The Smoke-Free Alternatives Trade Association stated in opposition to the e-cigarette bill. “Stigmatizing vapor products that don’t contain tobacco, and treating them the same as combustible tobacco while seeking to economically penalize smokers attempting to switch to e-cigarettes, is counterproductive to public health.”

California’s tobacco legislation is a center of controversy; there are many critics of this legislative execution, but many support the general path toward a healthier, smoke-free California.