California Raises Legal Smoking Age To 21

By McCarton Ackerman 05/06/16

Findings show that raising the smoking age to 21 would automatically deter 15% of people ages 18-20 from using tobacco products. 

California Raises Legal Smoking Age To 21
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California is one of the more progressive U.S. states when it comes to marijuana, but it has adopted a reverse approach for tobacco products. A new measure signed Wednesday officially made California the second state to raise the legal smoking age to 21.

After the law goes into effect on June 6, any company caught selling tobacco products, including e-cigarettes and chewing tobacco, to a person under age 21 will be fined up to $5,000, according to the BBC. The measure was one of five signed by Gov. Jerry Brown to further restrict tobacco use in the state—including expanding funding for anti-smoking programs and regulating e-cigarettes. 

According to the Institute of Medicine, raising the tobacco-buying age to 21 would deter 15% of people between ages 18 and 20 from beginning to use these products—since 90% of regular smokers begin using before age 19.

"It is long past due for California to update our approach to tobacco," said Steven Larson, president of the California Medical Association. "There has been an alarming rise in the use of e-cigarettes by teens, putting them at risk for lifelong addiction." 

The lone exception to the rule will be military personnel, for whom the tobacco-buying age will stay at 18 years old. According to the BBC, veterans' groups and Republican lawmakers had argued that those who are considered old enough to die for their country should be old enough to use tobacco. Their efforts stalled the bill for six months before state lawmakers passed this provision early March.

Unsurprisingly, the tobacco industry has previously indicated that they would try and overturn the bill if it were passed. If tobacco companies plan to move forward with this threat, they would need to collect 366,000 signatures by early August, to ask voters to reject the new regulations.

More than 100 cities and counties, including New York City, have adopted similar measures. Hawaii broke ground in January by becoming the first state to raise the legal smoking age to 21, and treating e-cigarettes the same as regular cigarettes. Under the law, which went into effect last month, Hawaiians under 21 years old who violate the law will receive a $10 fine for the first offense, and a $50 fine or community service for further offenses. 

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.