California Assembly approves bills to raise smoking age to 21 and to regulate e-cigs

california legislature

The California State Assembly approved a bill this week to raise the state’s smoking age from 18 to 21. A number of cities and states have been doing this the past couple of years. I’ve on record as having a somewhat mixed view of this — 18-year-olds can vote, join the military and go to jail, but they can’t buy a pack of cigarettes? I get it that they can’t buy alcohol, but alcohol is an intoxicant.

Again, there is a big, big push going on to raise the smoking age to 21, and most of the tobacco control movement is behind it. Maybe I’m behind the times on this.   Whether I’m fully on board or not, this movement is gaining steam. The bill would prohibit stores from selling cigarettes to young adults between 18 and 20, but there would be no penalties for young adults for possession or using tobacco. I’m cool with that.

From a San Jose Mercury News story:

Young Bay Area residents had mixed reactions to the legislation.

“I’ve been smoking ever since my mom put my first cigarette into my hands at age 13,” said Juan Parada, a hip hop musician taking a smoking break Thursday in downtown San Jose. Now, at 21, he declares, “I know that each time I take a puff, I am killing myself slowly.”

Yet Parada, who performs under the moniker “Young Manny,” said increasing the smoking age to 21 will have little effect.

“Kids will find a way to get what they want — like getting an older person to buy cigarettes for them,” he said. “That’s what I did. That’s what lots of young kids do, and it’s just not that difficult.”

I guess my response to that is … your mom was giving you cigarettes when you were 13? … no offense, dude, but your mom is an idiot.

E-cigarette bill

However, I was more intrigued by another bill that also passed the Assembly — regulating e-cigarettes. Much overdue, in my opinion. The bill would treat e-cigarettes as a tobacco product, it would ban e-cigarette use in all workplaces and would require people selling e-cigarettes to get a special licence. It also would make it a misdemeanor to sell or provide vaping products to people under the age of 21 (I like this part of it because vaping has absolutely skyrocketed among teens in the past three years.). It doesn’t sound that strict, but it’s a beginning.  We’re all still waiting for the Food and Drug Administration federal regulations for e-cigarettes, so states are having to pass their own regulations.

These bills had been proposed in earlier years but got bogged down to a large degree because of lobbying from the tobacco industry. I found a couple of stories about just how powerful the tobacco lobby is in California. You’d be surprised to hear that California actually has one of the lowest tobacco taxes in the whole country — just 87 cents a pack. The Legislature simply will not pass a tobacco tax increase and tobacco industry lobbying is a reason why. California alone represents nearly 10 percent of the cigarette market in the entire country.

From a Sacramento Bee article:

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.

In remarks to reporters after the vote, Assembly Speaker-elect Anthony Rendon, D-Lakewood, called the tobacco industry “a strong force in this town” and alluded to “threats involving electoral efforts” against legislators.

“It’s exceptionally aggressive,” Rendon said.

Both bills go to the State Senate, where they are expected to pass.

A ballot measure to raise California’s cigarette tax by $2 a pack is being proposed. The last similar ballot measure (Again, the Legislature won’t approve a cigarette tax measure, so it keeps getting punted to the voters)  in California failed by just a few thousand votes after Big Tobacco spent millions to defeat it. However, this ballot measure is being proposed for November, when voter turnout is expected to be very heavy, in part because there will be another ballot measure to legalize pot in California.