California Could Raise Legal Smoking Age From 18 To 21

Wednesday, March 16, 2016
By Kenny Goldberg

It's the California Legislature's biggest anti-tobacco move in decades — a package of six bills awaits a decision by Gov. Jerry Brown.

One of the measures would make California only the second state to raise the legal age to buy tobacco from 18 to 21. The only one now is Hawaii.

Advocates say it could prevent many young people from picking up the habit.

“I don’t believe it is a radical step,” said Assemblyman Jim Wood, D-Healdsburg. He is pushing for the package of bills to be adopted.

“We are not criminalizing smoking in California. We are just making it harder for young people to buy cigarettes,” Wood told KPBS Midday Edition on Wednesday.

Critics say if 18-year-olds can vote and serve in the armed forces, they should be allowed to smoke.

Democrats later changed the bill to exempt members of the military.

Early versions of the legislation contained punishments, but those were removed as the measure moved through the Legislature.

“This is the maddest I’ve seen them (the tobacco industry) in 20 years,” Debra Kelley, advocacy director for the American Lung Association in California, told Midday Edition.

The older you get the less likely you are to actually start smoking, Kelley said. She said that makes tobacco companies desperate as they try to cultivate young smokers to replace smokers who quit or die.

Kelley said that’s why the legislation raising the age to buy cigarettes needs to be signed into law.

The bills are awaiting consideration by the governor.