Senate passes bills to regulate e-cigarettes, raise smoking age

June 05, 2015
Area(s) of Interest: Advocacy Public Health 

Two bills aimed at making it harder for California’s youth to use tobacco products passed in the state Senate on Tuesday.

Senate Bill 151 (Hernandez) would raise the minimum age for buying cigarettes from 18 to 21. SB 140 (Leno) would regulate e-cigarettes similar to combustible cigarettes, including banning their use in the usual “smoke-free” locations, such as schools, restaurants and hospitals.

SB 151 was the first of the two bills heard on the Senate floor. It passed on a 26-8 vote.

“We will not 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,” said Senator Ed Hernandez (D-West Covina), author of SB 151, in a statement after the vote. “Tobacco companies know that people are more likely to become addicted to smoking if they start at a young age.”

It is estimated that tobacco kills about 480,000 people in the United States each year. It is the leading cause of preventable death, with more fatalities than motor vehicle accidents, drugs, murders, suicides, alcohol and AIDS combined.

However, a recent study by the Institute of Medicine found that about 200,000 fewer deaths would occur for those born between 2000 and 2019 if the minimum age to purchase tobacco was raised to 21.

“We need to wake up and stop making it so easy for tobacco companies to poison generation after generation of Californians,” Sen. Hernandez said.

SB 140, which would also place e-cigarettes under the Stop Tobacco Access to Kids Enforcement Act, a law to reduce illegal sales of cigarettes to minors, passed the Senate on a 24-12 vote.

“E-cigarettes are addicting a new generation of smokers to nicotine, which contains toxic chemicals and is highly addictive,” said the bill’s author, Sen. Mark Leno (D-San Francisco), in a statement. “We must take action now in order to protect our youth and Californians of every age from harmful firsthand and secondhand e-cigarette emissions.”

Of great concern to Leno is the number of middle and high school students who have never smoked traditional cigarettes, but are now smoking e-cigarettes — products that contain nicotine, he said at the hearing. Those students comprise the fastest growth segment of new e-cigarette users.

“One hundred and twenty three cities and counties in California have already done what this bill proposes to do today,” he said Tuesday. “It’s time for the entire state to move in this direction.”

Both bills now move to the state Assembly.


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