California lawmakers have resurrected stalled efforts to raise the smoking age to 21 and regulate e-cigarettes as tobacco products.
Health advocates saw their tobacco-control legislation thwarted earlier this month in the Assembly Governmental Organization Committee. But they will get a new chance in the Legislature’s special session on healthcare – and they have their leaders’ blessing.
“Tobacco is the leading cause of preventable death and disease in the United States, and treating tobacco-related illnesses costs California taxpayers billions of dollars,” Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León and Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins said in a joint prepared statement. “We applaud our members for taking on this public-health crisis for the people of California.”
Other bills in a package touted by supporters would nix public smoking ban exemptions that currently allow people to light up in places like hotel lobbies and certain small businesses; create a statewide ban on smoking on K-12 school campuses; allow local governments to levy additional tobacco taxes and charge tobacco vendors an annual licensing fee in place of the current one-time $100 fee.
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A coalition of labor and healthcare groups has also been pushing to have lawmakers use the special session to consider taxing tobacco and putting the proceeds toward Medi-Cal, California’s healthcare program for the low-income, potentially by raising provider reimbursement rates. Such a bill could be forthcoming, campaign spokesman Mike Roth said.
“This is a first step in a comprehensive package,” Roth said. “We are committed to passing a tobacco tax in 2016 through the Legislature or the ballot.”
A group with some of the members last week received clearance to begin collecting signatures for a tobacco-tax ballot measure.