California Governor Jerry Brown last week signed into law a bill that raises California’s legal age to buy tobacco products from 18 to 21. The law is set to take effect on June 9.
By increasing the tobacco age to 21, the nation’s largest state follows similar measures taken by others. The state of Hawaii and at least 125 cities and counties in nine states have already raised the tobacco age to 21. Major cities that have done so include New York City, Boston, Cleveland and both Kansas Cities. Numerous other states and cities across the country are considering such measures.
In response to the change, Rob Crane, MD, president of the Preventing Tobacco Addiction Foundation, released the following statement:
“Governor Jerry Brown took a major step today in protecting California teens from an avaricious, amoral tobacco industry by signing an historic bill that will raise the sales age of all nicotine and tobacco products to age 21. This action puts tobacco sales in line with other high-risk products like alcohol and handguns, and recognizes that 95 percent of all smokers initiate to this deadly addiction before age 21.
California has long been a leader in tobacco prevention and control, but 40,000 of its citizens still die each year from smoking, and it costs the state over $9 billion in extra health care expenditures. Driven by predatory marketing, focusing on candy flavors and celebrity endorsements, teen use of e-cigarettes, hookahs, vape devices and small cigars has exploded, largely erasing a decade of hard-won declines in kids’ use of traditional cigarettes. With the Tobacco 21 bill, state leaders have drawn a bright line against adolescent addiction.
The U.S. Surgeon General predicts that if the current trajectory is maintained, 5.6 million American kids alive today will die prematurely from smoking. Early nicotine use is also strongly associated with abuse of other substances as well as adolescent depression, anxiety and suicide. Raising the access age for all nicotine products is a common-sense regulation designed to give adolescents more time to mature. Importantly, the vast majority of kids ages 17 and under get their cigarettes from social sources aged 18-21. Raising the access age to 21 helps squeeze that pipeline. One of the earliest adopters, Needham, Massachusetts, demonstrated a 48 percent reduction in high school smoking when a Tobacco 21 law was enacted.
The effectiveness of increasing the sales age to 21 is underscored by the rabid reaction of the tobacco industry to this legislation. The California tobacco lobby has promised a “scorched earth” attack on legislators who stood up to them, and have vowed to bring the issue to an expensive referendum. Fortunately, polls in California and across the U.S. demonstrate tremendous popular support for this logical reform. More than 75 percent of Americans including all demographic groups and political ideologies endorse the change, including 70 percent of smokers.
Governor Brown and the California legislature should be congratulated on their courage and leadership. More than 150 cities across the country have adopted age 21, but only one state, Hawaii, has managed to overcome the entrenched tobacco lobbies that dominate statehouses. Now that our most populist state has embraced Tobacco 21, we can expect other state leaders to take action to better protect their kids. Thank you, California.”