Clock starts for voters to reject new California tobacco age

AP News
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Posted: May 05, 2016 2:11 AM
Clock starts for voters to reject new California tobacco age

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — California has become the second state in the nation to raise the legal age to buy tobacco from 18 to 21, starting the clock for opponents to ask voters for a reversal this November.

Gov. Jerry Brown's signature on Wednesday means, beginning June 9, it will be a crime in California to sell or give tobacco to anyone except military personnel under age 21. He did not say why he signed the measure along with four others restricting tobacco use in various ways.

Tobacco interests have threatened to target the changes at the ballot box if they are signed into law. Industry or other opponents would need to collect 366,000 valid signatures by early August to ask voters to reject the new laws in November.

"The fierce opposition from Big Tobacco on this measure proves just how important this law is and how much their business model relies on targeting our kids," state Sen. Ed Hernandez, an Azusa Democrat and author of the tobacco age bill, said in a statement.

Supporters of the law said it aims to deter adolescents from the harmful, sometimes fatal effects of nicotine addiction. The Institute of Medicine reports that 90 percent of daily smokers began using tobacco before turning 19.

Lawmakers and health advocates applauded the move and expect other states to follow California's lead.

"By increasing the tobacco age to 21, the nation's largest state provides incredible momentum to similar efforts nationwide," Matthew Myers, president of Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, said in a statement.

Representatives of tobacco organization Altria Group Inc. declined to comment, and R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. did not return calls Wednesday.

California joins Hawaii, which in April became the first state in the nation to raise the legal smoking age to 21. Other jurisdictions around the country have made the change, including New York and San Francisco.

Veterans organizations and Republican lawmakers in California objected to the bill, saying people old enough to die for their country are old enough to use tobacco.

The California proposal stalled for six months until lawmakers agreed to retain the 18-year-old tobacco age for military personnel and passed it in early March.

The Institute of Medicine reported in March 2015 that increasing the smoking age to 21 would immediately deter 15 percent of people 18-20 from taking up a lasting tobacco habit.

The study, conducted at the request of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, found that raising the minimum smoking age above 20 "will mean that those who can legally obtain tobacco are less likely to be in the same social networks as high school students."

Brown, a Democrat, has signed laws banning the sale of e-cigarettes to minors and reining in the use of tobacco at day care and community facilities.

Brown was out of public office when California became the first state in the nation to ban smoking in public places in 1995 then expand the law in 1998. He did not chime in publicly on 1998, 2006 or 2012 ballot initiatives that sought additional fees on cigarettes.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg donated $500,000 to support the 2012 initiative, which was heavily outspent by tobacco interests and narrowly defeated.

Brown also signed legislation Wednesday to regulate electronic cigarettes, 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. He vetoed a bill that would have allowed local governments to establish tobacco taxes.