California Smoking Bill Stalls

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California Smoking Bill Stalls

SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- A state Senate panel in California yesterday shelved a controversial proposal to raise the state's legal smoking age to 21. However, the state Appropriations Committee will reconsider the legislation next week.

Appropriations Chairwoman Dede Alpert (D-Coronado) said she and other likely supporters are struggling with the novel proposal that has drawn national attention. "I don't think it's dead," Alpert told the San Diego Union-Tribune. "I think it's honestly something that people are going to have to sit down and talk about some more."

The bill, introduced in July by Assemblyman Paul Koretz (D-West Hollywood), would make California the first state to raise the legal smoking age from 18 to 21. The legal smoking age is 18 in all but three states -- Alabama, Alaska and Utah -- where smokers must be 19.

The state Board of Equalization estimated the measure would trim tobacco tax revenues by up to 3 percent, or $25.7 million a year. In an ironic twist, Assembly Speaker Herb Wesson (D-Culver City) is pushing to more than triple the tobacco tax -- taking it from 87 cents to $3 per pack -- to help close a $23.6-billion budget deficit, the report said.

California's anti-tobacco campaign has been effective in reducing the adult smoking rate, which is down to 17.4 percent, second only to Utah. But state data show that young adults have proved to be the toughest group to reach. Eighteen- to 24-year-olds are the only age group that has not shown a marked decline in tobacco consumption since 1989, when California initiated its anti-tobacco efforts. During that span, the number of 18- to 24-year-olds who smoke actually increased, from 18.9 percent to 23.6 percent, according to The Tribune.