A new California bill could lift the legal age to buy cigarettes to 21 in an effort to minimize teen smoking rates.
Sen. Ed Hernandez (D-CA) proposed legislation Thursday that raises the smoking age three years, from 18 to 21, according to the Sacramento Bee.
“Tobacco companies know that people are more likely to become addicted to smoking if they start at a young age” Hernandez said in a statement. “We can no longer afford to sit on the sidelines while big tobacco markets to our kids and gets another generation of young people hooked on a product that will ultimately kill them.”
The California bill would be the first to raise the state’s legal smoking age to 21 — the highest in the country — since other states have failed to pass similar initiatives. For example, Massachusetts proposed in November a ban on the sale of tobacco products in the state.
The bill is the second anti-smoking legislation to come out of California this week. On Jan. 26, Sen. Mark Leno (D-CA) introduced legislation that would extend smoking bans to e-cigarettes, making it illegal to vape or smoke e-cigarettes indoors, the Sacramento Bee reported. The bill would also make it harder to sell e-cigarettes to minors, adding more enforcement to an existing ban.
Among the striking statistics that motivated Hernandez’s bill is this one: Nine out of 10 current smokers started before they turned 18, according to California’s American Lung Association.
One in five Americans deaths every year are from smoking-related illness. And cigarettes cause a third of cancer-related deaths, and have caused 14 million medical conditions such as heart disease, stroke, and cancers of the lung, bladder, cervix, colon, esophagus, kidney, larynx, windpipe, mouth, tongue, lip, and throat.
And while the number of U.S. high school students who smoke has dropped to its the lowest rate in more than two decades, teens are trying other tobacco products.
But e-cigarettes contain nicotine and, while researchers agree they have less toxins than traditional tobacco cigarettes, aren’t sure whether they are less addictive. E-cigarettes also carry many of the same health risks, including heart disease.
Hookah smoking among college students is another growing concern. More than half of college students have tried hookah or shisha, with 13 percent believing that it is harmless. But smoking hookah for an hour can be as bad as smoking five packs of cigarettes.
Health advocate groups are pushing for stricter regulations on e-cigarettes. Research organizations have called on the Food and Drug Administration to regulate the sale of e-cigarettes because of the potential health risks. But advocates have run into opposition from Congressional Republicans, who believe tougher regulations could lead to all out tobacco product bans.
The legal age for smoking and buying tobacco products is California is 21 starting June 9. The law, passed in May, also misdemeanor criminal charge.