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California may soon become one of only two states to have a minimum smoking age of 21 years old. Lawmakers approved bills this week to raise the minimum age to buy tobacco products as well as regulate electronic cigarettes. The legislation now must be signed by Gov. Jerry Brown.
The bold move against the tobacco industry is one only previously taken by the state of Hawaii. Dozens of cities nationwide, including New York and San Francisco, have passed local laws to raise the minimum age to 20. California Sen. Kevin De Leon (D) said the six bills approved and sent to the governor to sign are "the most expansive tobacco control legislative package in over a decade."
If signed into law by Gov. Brown, the bill on electronic cigarettes would ban people from using them in restaurants, theaters and all other places where smoking is already prohibited in public.
The e-cigarette bill also would restrict marketing the product to minors. "For the first time, more teenagers use e-cigarettes than cigarettes," California State Sen. Jeff Stone (R) told the Los Angeles Times. In 2015, sales of e-cigarettes were estimated to be a more than $1.5 billion market with a projected growth of 24 percent over the next four years.
Studies have previously shown that nearly 90 percent of adult smokers began smoking before they were 18. And, research published in the journal Pediatrics in 2015 found a strong link between teens who used e-cigarettes and then later began smoking regular cigarettes. In other words, the e-cigarettes seemed to be a gateway to picking up regular tobacco cigarettes.
Studies have shown that nearly 90 percent of adult smokers began smoking before they were 18. Teens who use e-cigarettes are more likely to later smoke regular cigarettes, too.
According to a 2014 report from the CDC, cigarette smoking rates among U.S. high school students are at the lowest level since 1991. Still, nearly one in 15 high school seniors was a daily smoker in 2014. A Penn State study published in 2015 revealed that although cigarette use is higher among white teens than their black and Hispanic peers, the white teens tend to give up the habit as they reach their 20s; their black and Hispanic peers are more likely to pick up the habit in their 20s and continue smoking into adulthood.
As of 2014, more teens had used e-cigarettes than smoked regular cigarettes. In 2011, the percent of high school seniors who had ever used an e-cigarette was only 4.7 percent. However, by 2014, that number jumped to 17.2 percent. So the concern over e-cigarette regulation is definitely real. Although marketers say they are not directly targeting teens, experts say that flavored vape juices for e-cigarettes mask the bitterness of tobacco so kids and teens are more likely to experiment with e-cigarettes first. A 2015 Harvard study also found that chemicals used in flavored e-cigarettes can cause respiratory problems and lead to a condition known as "popcorn lung," so there could be long-lasting health consequences for those who start using e-cigarettes at a young age and continue into adulthood.
In California, four other tobacco-related bills were approved by state legislators—one of which expands bans on smoking at schools.
Lawmakers hope that raising the minimum age to buy tobacco products, as well as regulating use of e-cigarettes and how they're marketed, will save lives by preventing young people from ever taking up smoking—or at least make it tougher to do so.
However, not all lawmakers were in favor of the new limitations. Sen. John Moorlach (R) opposed the regulations because he said, "everybody has the right and the freedom to smoke."
Will more states follow suit? We hope so, for our kids' sake.