California tobacco regulations pass

Louis LaVenture,
News and Sports Editor

Graphic by Tam Duong Jr./The Pioneer
Graphic by Tam Duong Jr./The Pioneer

Soon 18 to 20-year-olds in California will be restricted from purchasing all forms of tobacco and e-cigarette products.

On March 10, the California State Senate approved a package of tobacco regulation bills created by the State Assembly that will raise the age to purchase tobacco products in the state from 18 years old to 21. The major functions of the bill would be to impose higher tobacco taxes, outlaw tobacco use at all K-12 schools, erase loopholes in smoking in workplaces and raise the licensing fee for tobacco retailers.

The measures passed 26-10 in the senate. If Governor Jerry Brown intends to approve the bill package, he would need to make a final decision by the end of this month.

This comes on the heels of a March 3 decision by the city of San Francisco to increase the age to purchase tobacco to 21, the largest city to do so since New York City raised the age to 21 in 2015. Author of the bill, Senator Ed Hernandez (D-Azusa), was originally met with critics who were reluctant to pass it. The bill was authored “years ago” but just recently received the support necessary to be passed. Hernandez said a recent emphasis on health and a special health meeting were key factors in the success of the bill.

California is only the second state in the United State to pass tobacco bills of this nature, with Hawaii initially paving the way. The e-cigarette restrictions were initially proposed by Senator Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) who credited a federally funded study over the past few years that found use by teenagers has tripled in the last few years. The study also found that e-cigarettes and vaping had become increasingly more popular among teenagers and young adults, primarily because they were seen as a “safer” option to smoking than actual tobacco.

“There is this huge misconception out there that e-cigarettes and vaping is safer,” Leno said. “That is absolutely not true. They are just as or more dangerous smoking cigarettes.”

The package of bills have received a steady flow of resistance, especially from tobacco companies and many Republicans who say the state should stay out of a person’s individual health decisions. This is the first time in more than 20 years that several bills have been passed aimed at regulating the tobacco industry.

In addition to raising the age of purchase to 21, all K-12 schools will be completely smoke-free, setting distance regulations that will make it illegal to smoke within a certain number of feet of the property. The bills would also regulate how close e-cigarette manufacturing companies can be to schools, hospitals and other public facilities. Taxes on cigarettes and e-cigarettes will also rise, from $1.88 to $2.00, making it more expensive to pick up or continue the habit.

A key detail to the bills is the age exception that is included as part of the package: any person in the military, 18 or over, will still be allowed to purchase tobacco products with valid military identification. The bills, which were stalled for months, were revived last month in a small session where several Republicans attempted to stop the measure from being heard, according to Hernandez.

There are smoking exemptions for hotel lobbies, warehouse facilities, gaming clubs and bars and businesses with five or fewer employees. However, as part of the new set of bills, those loopholes would be closed and workplaces would become completely smoke free.

Senator Cathleen Galgiani (D-Stockton) was the only Democrat not to vote for the age increase or the e-cigarette restrictions. All of the other opposing votes were recorded by Republicans.

“So I can go to war or get the death penalty but I can’t buy a smoke?” 20-year-old smoker Oscar Moreno, CSU East Bay junior, said. “I thought being 18 made me an adult. Who are politicians to tell me what to do with my body?”

According to the U.S. Surgeon General’s statement, a significant number of smokers start before they are 18 and by making it illegal for 18 to 20-year-olds to buy tobacco for their underage friends, it will make it more difficult for teens to get the products.