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By Miriam Raftery

May 5, 2016 (Sacramento) – California has become the second state in the nation (after Hawaii) to raise the smoking age to 21 years of age. Governor Jerry Brown signed a package of bills into law that also bans sale of e-cigarette products to youths and prohibits use of electronic cigarettes in public places such as restaurants or theaters, as well as at most areas in public schools including charters.

El Cajon Councilman Gary Kendrick praised the Governor’s action. “That’s going to save millions of lives,” said Kendrick, who authored El Cajon’s measures to restrict e-cigarettes and smoking in public places. The El Cajon Council, at Kendrick’s urging, also passed a resolution in support of raising California’s smoking age from 18 to 21.

The Governor also singed measures to ban smoking in more workplaces, including motel lobbies, warehouses, gambling clubs, covered parking lots and other public areas not already protected under current law.  Licensing fees for tobacco retailers will also be raised to cover enforcement costs.

The new state laws have the backing of medical organizations including the California Medical Association, American Lung Association, American Cancer Society and American Heart Association.

The smoking restrictions were opposed by the tobacco industry and by some retail associations. However the Neighborhood Market Assocation based in San Diego broke ranks, becoming the only small business retailer in California to support raising the smoking age.

 “We see this as something that will better the lives of the youth we support, and the communities that we serve,” says Mark Arabo, president of the Neighborhood Market Association. “While there may be a financial hit incurred by some small businesses, our concern is in preserving people, not profits.”

The tobacco industry sought to put an initiative on the ballot to overturn the bills, but was thwarted by procedural tactics by lawmakers.

The Smoke-Free Alternatives Trade Assn., which represents makers of electronic cigarettes issued a statement criticizing the state for reclassifying vaping products as tobacco, even some that contain no tobacco.   

But health experts note that tobacco kills 34,000 Californians each year and is the leading cause of preventable deaths nationwide. The National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that 90% of smokers start before age 21. The Institute of Medicine has estimated that raising the tobacco age to 21 will prevent 200,000 fewer premature deaths for those who are currently teens or younger.

A Cneters for Disease Control and Prevention study last year found that use of e-cigarettes by high school students tripled from 2013 to 2014, with many vaping devices including liquid mixed with nicotine or other harmful chemicals to product vapor.

Raising the smoking age will take effect June 9, 2016. There is an exemption for active duty military personnel.The other bills will take effect January 1, 2017.

Mark Leno, author of the bills, stated, “Ensuring that e-cigarettes fall under California’s comprehensive smoke-free laws is critical to protecting public health, especially given the alarming rate at which young people are picking up these devices."

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