Senate committee approves bill to raise minimum age to buy tobacco to 21
A bill to raise the minimum smoking age from 18 to 21 was approved by a Senate committee Wednesday.
Assemblyman Paul Koretz, the bill's author, said the measure would reduce smoking among teen-agers by making it more difficult for them to buy tobacco products.
"This bill will make California the strictest state in the nation when it comes to allowing people to smoke," said Koretz, D-West Hollywood. "Once again, California can lead the way in preventing young people from becoming addicted."
The tighter age restrictions will make it more difficult for 12- to 17-year-olds to buy tobacco, he said, because they'll have to pass for age 21.
"And they won't be able to easily bum cigarettes from their 18-year-old friends," Koretz said.
Most smokers are hooked by age 20, he said, and this would reduce the number of lifelong smokers by encouraging young people to wait before taking up the habit.
The bill was sponsored by the California Medical Association and supported by the American Lung Association of California and the California Nurses Association, among others.
If approved, those between 18 and 21 when the bill took effect would still be able to buy tobacco.
The bill would have an unknown fiscal impact on state programs that depend on a 50-cent-per-pack tax on tobacco products. But that loss could be offset by long-term savings if less people seek health care for smoking-related illnesses.
Dennis Hiller, a representative of the National Youth Rights Association, was the sole opponent to testify at the Senate Health and Human Services Committee hearing.
"My brother is 13. I don't want to see him smoke," Hiller said. "This is an admirable goal ... but this bill isn't the means to accomplish it."
People who have reached the age of 18 can sign contracts and serve in the armed forces and should have the responsibility to make their own decisions about smoking, Hiller said.
"Prohibition won't stop young people from smoking, education will," he said.
Tobacco company Philip Morris hasn't taken a position on the bill, spokesman Tom Ryan has said, noting that other states have raised their minimum age to 19. They are Alabama, Alaska and Utah.
The committee approved the bill 7-0, the minimum number of votes needed.