Capitol Alert

California smoking age increase, vaping bills move to Jerry Brown

'Vaping Jezus' slams California plan to equate e-cigarettes, tobacco

Sweeping tobacco control bills that treat electronic cigarettes like tobacco products have been signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown. Pro-vaping advocate David Hansen had testified against the vaping legislation.
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Sweeping tobacco control bills that treat electronic cigarettes like tobacco products have been signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown. Pro-vaping advocate David Hansen had testified against the vaping legislation.

California is one step away from enacting some of its most significant tobacco legislation in decades.

The state Senate on Thursday approved a far-reaching package of bills that will raise the legal purchase age to 21 from 18 and regulate e-cigarettes like a traditional tobacco product. Six measures now head to Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk, where their fate is uncertain.

If Brown signs the age increase, which includes an exemption for active members of the military, California will follow Hawaii as only the second state with a smoking age of 21. The Senate approved the change on a 26-10 vote.

“The last several months have proven just how much tobacco’s business model depends on their ability to market and sell their poison to our kids,” said Sen. Ed Hernandez, D-Azusa, who authored the bill. “It is time that we take a stand.”

The last several months have proven just how much tobacco’s business model depends on their ability to market and sell their poison to our kids.

Sen. Ed Hernandez, D-Azusa

An expanded ban on smoking in workplaces and permission for counties to begin introducing local taxes on tobacco sales were among the other proposals passed Thursday, almost entirely with support from Democratic lawmakers. The only Republican to vote for the most of the bills was Sen. Jeff Stone, a pharmacist from Temecula who cited the detrimental health effects of tobacco as well as his own mother’s death from cancer after years of smoking.

Sen. Cathleen Galgiani, D-Stockton, was the sole Democrat not to vote for either the age increase or the e-cigarette regulations. She said she opposed raising the smoking age to 21 because “it didn’t make sense” to cause “so many changes to retail markets.”

Stalled for months in the Assembly due to fierce industry objections, the tobacco bills were revived in the lower house last week and approved along largely party lines in a raucous floor session where Republicans first tried to block the measures from being heard.

The e-cigarette regulations have been particularly contentious, as the law would place the flourishing product – pitched by supporters as a healthier alternative that can help people stop smoking – under California’s current smoke-free laws, which includes banning them from schools, public buildings and restaurants.

Yet the Senate was mostly free of drama – or even debate – Thursday as it quickly sent the bill to Brown on a 26-11 vote.

We’re doing this ... to address a growing health crisis assaulting the children of California.

Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco

“We’re doing this ... to address a growing health crisis assaulting the children of California,” said the author of the measure, Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, who lambasted the tobacco industry for targeting e-cigarettes at young people in order to create “another generation of nicotine-addicted Californians.”

The only proposal to attract notable opposition from Democrats was the expanded ban on smoking in workplaces, which will remove exemptions for hotel lobbies, warehouse facilities, gaming clubs, bars and businesses with five or fewer employees.

Sen. Bob Hertzberg, D-Los Angeles, objected to language extending the ban to owner-operators who work out of their homes if they bring over clients and customers: “This is about writing the laws in a way that works for folks.”

The bill squeaked through 21-13.

Alexei Koseff: 916-321-5236, @akoseff

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