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California Lawmakers Vote To Raise Smoking Age To 21

Apr 15 2016, by Jessica McElfresh in Drug Crimes, Legal Blog

This March, the California legislature passed a slew of anti-tobacco bills. The most prominent of these, by far, included measures that raised the legal smoking age to 21 in California and banning the use of e-cigarettes in movie theaters, restaurants and other places where smoking is typically banned.

If Gov. Jerry Brown signs the bill into law, California will become just the second state, after only Hawaii, to have the age for purchasing tobacco products raised to 21 years old from 18 years old. Over 100 cities, including Boston and New York, have raised the age.

Some lawmakers cautioned that the law would be unfair in taking away the choice to smoke for people old enough to marry, vote, enter contracts and enlist in the military. Interestingly, some lawmakers are even seeking to amend the bill to exempt those under 21 who are in the active military service.

A coalition that called itself “Save Lives California” advanced these measures, which includes the California Medical Association, the American Lung Association, and the American Cancer Society. The fact that 95% of adult smokers begin to smoke before age 21 was the driving force behind the law. However, the CDC reports that about 90% of lifetime smokers start smoking during adolescence, when smoking is of course illegal.

Raises Subtle But Important Questions About Individual Liberty

Despite a majority of largely anti-tobacco lawmakers, the bill did not pass by large margins. Some of this was, of course, due to the tobacco lobby which is still an influential interest group, albeit nothing compared to what it was during its heyday. Other voices opposed the bill due for the same reason they object to other paternalistic “nanny state” measures, arguing that in raising the smoking age to 21, the government — with good intentions — undercuts civil liberties.

These opponents argue that 18 to 21-year-olds would be far better served by being treated with the same smoking cessation provided to adults. In their eyes, all that this law does is inhibit the right to choose and prohibit access

Effectiveness is Far From Certain

While the legislation’s good intentions should be applauded, recent history points to the possibility of unintended consequences. Advocates of the law cite studies that indicate smoking initiation will lower due to the new legislation, but examples from the United States and abroad clearly show that this is far from certain.

Opponents of the law point to the 1992 federal law known as the “Synar Amendment” that set the smoking age to 18. Rather than inhibit teen smoking, however, the Synar Amendment actually led to a huge spike in teenage smoking, culminating in an all-time high during the late 1990s, according to statistics from the the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Adolescent Health.

This phenomenon is not unique to the United States either. The smoking rate among French teens has gone up since in France since the smoking age was raised to 18 in 2009.

Opponents also question why the state government is now trying to hasten a problem that is already on its way to being solved. California’s smoking rate among teens dropped 11% between 2000 and 2012 according to the California Department of Health and the rate among adults is at an all-time low. Public awareness campaigns, stigmatization, and public smoking bans appear to be working quite well.

How a San Diego Criminal Defense Attorney Can Help You

Personal liberty rarely moves in big, sweeping waves. Typically, personal freedom is restricted incrementally. San Diego criminal defense attorney Jessica McElfresh of McElfresh Law, Inc. keeps up to date on the latest developments in the California legislature so as to provide her client’s with the best possible defense and representation. If you believe your rights have been denied in the criminal justice system, or if you have been charged with a crime, contact us here or call (858) 756-7107.