Capitol Alert

California smoking age raise, e-cigarette regulations stall

Kari Hess, left, co-owner of Nor Cal Vape, in Redding, Calif., celebrates with Jackie Voisione, center, and Michael Ventura, right, an e-liquid manufacturer from San Diego, after a bill to regulate e-cigarettes stalled in an Assembly committee at the Capitol in July.
Kari Hess, left, co-owner of Nor Cal Vape, in Redding, Calif., celebrates with Jackie Voisione, center, and Michael Ventura, right, an e-liquid manufacturer from San Diego, after a bill to regulate e-cigarettes stalled in an Assembly committee at the Capitol in July. AP

Proposals to hike California’s tobacco-buying age to 21 and regulate electronic cigarettes did not get an Assembly floor vote before the legislative session concluded on Friday.

Both measures had cleared the Senate before running aground in the Assembly Governmental Organization Committee, a panel widely perceived by lawmakers and health advocates as being sympathetic to the tobacco industry. By reviving similar bills under a special healthcare session, legislators evaded the committee. Because regular deadlines do not apply to special sessions, both measures could still see votes in the weeks to come.

As the list of bills awaiting votes diminished to the last few, Democrats left the Assembly floor for a nearly hour-long caucus in which they debated whether to bring up a package of tobacco bills.

In pushing to bump the tobacco-buying age to 21 and to treat electronic cigarettes as a tobacco product, health advocates focused not just on minimizing tobacco use but on keeping tobacco from young Californians in particular.

They pointed to studies showing e-cigarette use has skyrocketed among teens even as traditional cigarettes have fallen out of favor, noting that large tobacco companies have gotten into the vaping business. They argued that high-school students have easy access to 18-year-olds capable of buying them tobacco.

Many in the e-cigarettes industry argued it is unfair to liken their product to tobacco, saying the devices offer a healthier alternative to smoking. Most e-cigarettes heat into a fine mist a chemical mix that typically includes nicotine, which is derived from tobacco plants.

And even liberal lawmakers struggled with the notion that someone who can vote, serve in the military and be tried as an adult would not be able to purchase a pack of cigarettes.

Jeremy B. White: 916-326-5543, @CapitolAlert

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