California Governor Ushers In New Tobacco Restrictions

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — California is now the second state to set its minimum legal buying age for tobacco products at 21. Hawaii became the first on Jan. 1.

Gov. Jerry Brown on May 4 signed into law several pieces of tobacco legislation that state legislators had approved in March. He also vetoed one bill that would have left tobacco taxation up to the discretion of local counties.

Sen. Ed Hernandez (D-Azusa), author of the bill to raise the legal purchasing age, expects other states to follow California's lead, according to The Associated Press. "It's going to send a shockwave across the country," he said.

Under the new law, consumers aged 18 to 20 will no longer be allowed to buy tobacco in California starting on June 9. Anyone who gives tobacco or tobacco paraphernalia to someone under the age of 21 could be found guilty of a misdemeanor crime.

Brown, a Democrat, also signed laws banning the sale of electronic cigarettes to minors and reining in the use of tobacco at daycare and community facilities. Yet another new law classifies e-cigarettes, or "vaping" devices, as tobacco products subject to the same restrictions on who can purchase them and where they can be used. 

The California chapter of the Smoke-Free Alternatives Trade Association (SFATA) spoke out against the measure. "California took a step backwards today by reclassifying vapor products as tobacco. Stigmatizing vapor products, which contain no tobacco and treating them the same as combustible tobacco while actively seeking to economically penalize smokers attempting to switch is counterproductive to public health," SFATA said in a statement. "We remain strongly opposed to [the legislation] and will continue to work with the legislature, and voters, to educate them on what science says should be embraced as a far less harmful alternative to combustible cigarettes."

SFATA is the largest trade association in the vapor products industry, with more than 800 members and 19 chapters across the country, representing online retailers, brick-and-mortar vendors, distributors, manufacturers, importers and wholesalers.

"Our industry, which was built by former smokers that morphed into small- and mid-sized businesses, has always supported sensible legislation, such as prohibitions on selling to minors, reasonable licensing requirements and child-resistant packaging," the association added. "However, this legislation will negatively impact California small business, of which there are approximately 1,400 vaping retail locations, plus hundreds of manufacturers, distributors and related businesses that contribute to the state's economy, generating taxes and thousands of jobs."

The tobacco package signed into law by Brown on May 4 also included legislation to set annual tobacco license fees, push for all charter schools to be tobacco free, and expand existing requirements for tobacco-free workplaces to include small businesses, break rooms and hotel lobbies. 

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