In Historic Step, California… | Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
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In Historic Step, California Assembly Votes to Raise Tobacco Age to 21, Approves Other Tobacco Control Measures

Statement of Matthew L. Myers, President, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
March 03, 2016

WASHINGTON, DC – The California Assembly today has taken historic action to accelerate progress against tobacco – the nation’s No. 1 cause of preventable death – by voting to raise the age of sale for tobacco products to 21, add electronic cigarettes to state tobacco regulations and approve other measures to further reduce tobacco use. The state Senate previously approved similar measures and is expected to give final approval shortly. These actions will protect children from tobacco addiction, save lives and help make the next generation tobacco-free.

By increasing the tobacco age to 21, the nation’s largest state will provide a powerful boost for similar efforts nationwide. The state of Hawaii and at least 125 cities and counties in nine states have already raised the tobacco age to 21. Major cities that have done so include New York City, Boston, Cleveland and both Kansas Cities. Numerous other states and cities across the country are considering such measures.

The Assembly also passed several other measures that will further reduce tobacco use, strengthen protections against harmful secondhand smoke and improve the overall health of California. By closing loopholes in the smoke-free workplace law, the state will protect even more workers from the hazards of secondhand smoke. By adding e-cigarettes to the smoke-free law and other tobacco regulations, the state brings common-sense regulation to these novel tobacco products and helps ensure they do not undermine secondhand smoke protections and efforts to reduce tobacco use. And by requiring all schools to be tobacco-free, California will reduce youth tobacco use even more.

Increasing the tobacco age to 21 will reduce tobacco use among youth and young adults – age groups when nearly all tobacco use begins and that are heavily targeted by the tobacco industry. We know that 95 percent of adult smokers began smoking before they turned 21. The increase in the tobacco age will help counter the industry’s efforts to target young people at a critical time when many move from experimenting with tobacco to regular smoking. It will also help keep tobacco out of high schools, where younger teens often obtain tobacco products from older students. A 2015 report by the prestigious Institute of Medicine concluded that increasing the tobacco sale age to 21 would yield substantial public health benefits.

Tobacco use kills nearly half a million Americans and costs the nation about $170 billion in health care bills each year. If current trends continue, 5.6 million of today’s youth will die prematurely from a smoking-related illness. We applaud California lawmakers for their leadership in helping end this terrible epidemic and look forward to Senate approval and Gov. Jerry Brown signing these measures into law.