California Medical Association votes to hike smoking age to 21
Members of the California Medical Association have voted to support raising the state's smoking age from 18 to 21.
The association, which represents 35,000 state physicians, voted to adopt the policy Sunday during its annual session in Anaheim that drew more than 400 delegates.
"I am very pleased that the CMA, in its wisdom, decided to support this policy," said Dr. Leonard Klay, an obstetrician-gynecologist from Santa Rosa, who introduced the measure.
"This is great news for the health of all Californians," he added. "We know that people who start smoking at a young age, especially, become addicted to deadly nicotine. My hope is that a higher age would help prevent some of these horrible smoking deaths people suffer."
The resolution was passed on a voice vote along with a dozen other resolutions with no dissent, Peter Warren, a spokesman for the CMA said Monday.
The resolution directs the association's lobbyists to support any legislation that would raise the legal age to buy, possess or receive tobacco products and paraphernalia.
No such legislation is pending in the state.
If a state lawmaker should propose such a law, the CMA has six full-time lobbyists that could be devoted to build coalitions in support of it, Warren said.
"This is probably something whose time has come, at least here, and it will come elsewhere," Warren said. "Of course, it requires some legislation and then we will support it."
The CMA for at least the last 20 years has been advocating anti-tobacco and anti-smoking measures. The organization, for example, supported the Smoke-free Workplace Act of 1994 that banned smoking in restaurants and most all other workplaces. The smoking ban was eventually extended to bars in January 1998.
All 50 states set a minimum age of at least 18 to buy tobacco products following a 1992 directive from Congress. In three other states, Alabama, Alaska and Utah, the legal age is 19.
The group's House of Delegates also voted to support increased fines and enforcement efforts to prevent minors from being exposed to tobacco products.
The American Lung Association does not support raising the legal smoking age, instead saying efforts would be better spent enforcing current laws.
The Lung Association estimates about 90 percent of all smokers pick up the habit before the age of 21. More than 430,000 Americans die each year from smoking-related diseases.