Capitol Alert
By Jeremy B. White
March 3, 2016 – 11:10 AM

  • Legal smoking age would go to 21
  • Military personnel could buy at age 18
  • E-cigarettes would be treated as tobacco products

Sweeping tobacco control bills raising California’s smoking age to 21 and treating electronic cigarettes as tobacco products passed the state Assembly on Thursday and should soon go before Gov. Jerry Brown.

Both bills now return to the Senate, where they are expected to pass, for a final vote before landing on Brown’s desk. Senate Bill 7, which raises the smoking age, passed 46-26 with five Democrats voting no and two Republicans – both facing tough re-election bids – in support. Senate Bill 5, which regulates e-cigarettes as tobacco products, passed 50-20 with three Democrats not voting. A spokeswoman for Brown declined to comment, in keeping with the governor’s general policy.

The votes to advance the two measures marked a major victory for public health advocates who previously failed to push the policies through and have struggled to overcome the tobacco industry’s influence in Sacramento. Without directly naming tobacco companies, Assemblyman Jim Wood, D-Healdsburg, said the bill was “aggressively lobbied by entities” who did not publicly register their opposition.

“They didn’t meet with me,” said Wood. “They didn’t testify in committee.”

Backers said raising the cigarette-buying age to 21 would discourage youth smoking that can morph into lifelong addiction. They drew comparisons to a decrease in traffic fatalities when the drinking age rose. Amendments exempt active-duty military members, who could still buy cigarettes at 18 with a military ID. The bill specifically addresses buying, not possessing, tobacco.

“Adolescent brains are uniquely vulnerable to the effects of nicotine and nicotine addiction,” said Wood, and “18-year-olds are much more likely to buy tobacco products for their 14-, 15-, 16-year-old friends.”

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