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California Could Raise Legal Smoking Age From 18 To 21

March 16, 2016 1:40 p.m.

Fate Of Anti-Tobacco Bills In California Governor's Hands


Assemblyman Jim Wood D-Healdsburg

Debra Kelley, advocacy director for the American Lung Association in California

Related Story: California Could Raise Legal Smoking Age From 18 To 21


This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

This is KPBS midday edition. I am Maureen Cavanaugh. This month the California legislature has passed one of the most aggressive packages of anti-tobacco bills in decades. One of the measures would raise the legal age to buy cigarettes from 18 to 21. Subject electronic cigarettes the same restrictions as regular cigarettes. Kenny Goldberg spoke to Northern California is only number Jim would, one of the co-authors of the smoking measure. And Debra Kelly advocacy director with the American lung Association in California. Here is that interview.
You have been involved in the effort to raise the age from 18 to 21 from some time. Wife is so important?
Is important to me as a healthcare provider. I practiced dentistry for almost 27 years. So everyday people addicted to tobacco. And the damage it costs. Even after they have undergone chemotherapy or radiation surgery -- the habit is difficult to kick. The impacts are very real. It is something I have been working on as a local elective and state legislature. Is important that we try to keep kids from getting hooked as early as possible.
How radical a step would you consider raising the age be?
I have heard from some people that we are becoming a nanny state. I don't believe it is a radical step. The bill actually raises the age to which you can buy tobacco to 21. We're not criminalizing people who were smoking -- we are simply making it harder for them to get a hold of tobacco. Originally we did have provisions for actually trying to enforce against the smoking part of it. But it does not any longer. It is about trying to restrict the access for young people.
Debra Kelly -- what kind of pushback have you seen from the tobacco industry.?
As you know I have been working in tobacco control for over 30 years. I have seen a lot of laws passed. A lot of activity from the tobacco industry. I have -- this is the matters I have seen them in 20 years. They are furious and making threats to our partner organizations like the California medical Association in California Hospital Association. First of all they are going to put this bill another bill on a referendum.
Why do you think they are upset at specifically over the measure that would raise the age to buy tobacco to 21?
They have to have young people to replace all of the smokers who either die or quit smoking. The older you get the less likely you are to actually start smoking. The younger you are when you start the more likely you are to become addicted and the harder it -- harder it will be to stop. They really want this 18 to 21-year-old market. If they were unable to sell -- get tobacco products into the hands of this age group, it would really devastate basically their industry. They want unfettered access to these young adults. Of course, a lot of their business model is based on what we were called trickle-down marketing. The market to the young adults. The teenagers see this as well. It affects down. They have a lot to lose. They will definitely tensor -- 10% to 15% or so to that group so they will lose that as well.
It goes a little further if you don't mind. There is a part of this that is significant -- we know that 18-year-olds are much more likely buyers of tobacco products. The 21-year-old don't do that. There is a lot of people who start smoking will be 418. While that 18 -- 221-year-old age group is a big deal. They don't have a desire to smoke. And try to keep it out of the hands of the 14 and 15-year-olds. That is incidentally one of the biggest markets of e-cigarettes. One of the reasons tobacco companies are so up in arms is that this is something that potentially can sweep across the nation once California goes. I think they see a real threat here. I think they have pledged to defeat these bills and push back the clock.
What about the view that critics have that if somebody is 18, they can vote to serve in the armed forces, they are adults. Why shouldn't they be able to buy tobacco?
I appreciate that. We felt the same way -- what about alcohol? Wheeler at the age -- we lower the age at which people could drink. And what do we find? We found that the number of highway accidents especially brutalities in that age group rose dramatically. States over a threat of loss of highway funds raised that back to 21. I would agree that you are old enough to vote and you are old enough to do a lot of these other things. I appreciate that. This is a public health measure. If I could be absolutely assured that if you're going to be smoker -- by the way you are going to pay out-of-pocket for all of your own medical expenses. This has a huge effect on all of us. It affects the medical population. We're paying for the consequences of people who desire to smoke. It all comes out of our taxes. So there is a huge cost -- over $3 billion a year to treat smoking-related illnesses in California. So I appreciate where people might feel we are infringing upon the rights. At the end of the day we're trying to save their lives.
In other part of this package of anti-tobacco bills would restrict electronic cigarettes in the same way that regular cigarettes are restricted. Why was that included?
Essentially, electronic cigarettes are not regulated at all. The big battle here is whether or not they should be defined as tobacco products or not. When I was in the city that I represented -- when I was the mayor we looked at that and we did not define e-cigarettes as tobacco products. We made a decision we were going to regulate them as if they were. We're pretty confident the FDA is going to come out with regulations to say they are tobacco products. That might happen. The problem is that you are targeting young people. You're getting them who on nicotine and that is the driver in all of this. All of the other bad things to come with cigarettes. That is where the addiction starts.
Debra Kelly -- the vaping industry argues that e-cigarettes are safer than smoking regular cigarettes. Therefore they should not be restricted in the same way the smoking tobacco is. Would you say to that?
We actually don't know how safe or how dangerous these products really are. We might not know for 20 years. At the effects accumulate. We certainly know enough about what can be an them. There are a lot of cancer-causing substances, a lot of toxic substances that they produce very high levels of particulate matter. A number of -- has been tested and they have been shown to damage the lungs and produce information. There is plenty there to give us concern about short-term and long-term health effects. Is a reasonable way to protect the population -- protect kids because this is a product being marketed to kids with a lot of sweet flavors. We don't want to set these kids are path of nicotine addiction and that is what these products can do.
What do you think the prospects are that the governor will sign this package of bills into law?
I am hopeful he will. He has not commented recently -- early on we got some indications he was certainly inclined to sign the bill. I am hopeful. At the end of the day, what our charge and special session was to find ways to impact the cost of health care in California. I think we look at the cost of providing care related to smoking related illnesses, over time this has potential to save us a lot of money. By extension, and much more importantly, save lives. I would hope he would look at it from that perspective. I would hope that it is pretty obvious that everyone is aware of the threat of the tobacco industry. I hope that people would realize that -- how bad they are, but it should not get in the way of signing bills that are good for public policy.
That was reporter Kenny Goldberg speaking with Jim Ward. -- Jim Ward. And Debra Kelly with the lung Association in California. And response to the legislation, a spokesman for the -- company which manufactures cigarettes. We believe states and localities should allow the FDA and Congress the opportunity to think through the issue before enacting different minimum age loss. To me now is Scott -- which produces vaporizes. Welcome to the program.
Do you have a problem with California regulating vaping and e-cigarettes use the same way cigarettes are regulated?
I would not say a problem -- I would say that from my perspective personally, I have a lot of stories about success stories about people getting off of tobacco through the process of vaporizing. Is a much safer alternative. I look at it different. I definitely agree that there is probably some more studies that need to be done out there as a whole. I don't think based on the studies I have seen there is a lot of debate on the fact that vaporizing is a safer alternative to smoking and combustion.
It does same though that in addition to perhaps hoping some people with cigarettes, a lot of advertising -- the flavors and that can contain nicotine is aimed at teenagers. The industry aim is to get kids hooked on nicotine at a young age. What is your response to that?
I know a lot of adults like those flavors as well. Not all of the nicotine's -- nicotine use that I have seen contain nicotine. Some people are doing it because they like the enjoyment of vaporizing. I guess that is a matter of opinion to some degree.
The CDC says the use of e-cigarettes by middle and high school students tripled from 2013 two 2014. You find that disturbing? Or is that okay?
Again -- I guess it depends on what your definition is. There is a lot of different products on the market -- there is a difference between a vaporizer or a traditional e-cigarette. I don't have enough information to answer that question.
The final question -- do you think vaping should be regulated at all?
That is not something I am prepared to comment on. The government at the end of the day is going to do what they see is the best. We're not going to lay and on the subject.
That you so much
's -- thank you so much.