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Legal Age To Purchase Tobacco Products In California Is Now 21

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The governor of California on Wednesday finally signed into law the bill that raises the legal purchasing age of tobacco products from 18 to 21, nearly two months after it was passed by state lawmakers.

Now the second state to pass such a law, California will implement the measure beginning June 9. Buying cigarette and tobacco products for smoking, chewing, vaping and dipping will be restricted to residents aged 20 and below.

Gov. Jerry Brown approved the new law along with four others that control tobacco use in different ways, including a measure that bans e-cigarette use in places where cigarette smoking is also forbidden.

However, Brown vetoed a measure that would give localities the ability to levy cigarette taxes.

The Side Of Proponents

Supporters of the new law intend to prevent teenagers from the toxic and sometimes deadly effects of nicotine addiction.

Research from the Institute of Medicine suggests that 90 percent of smokers started the habit before the age of 19. A 2012 report by the United States Surgeon General found that nine out of 10 smokers began lighting up at the age of 18, and 99 percent start at age 26.

Will the new law be effective? A separate Institute of Medicine study in 2015 revealed that raising the legal age of tobacco purchase would "substantially" decrease the numbers of adolescents who start smoking.

The study found that increasing the legal age would reduce the number of smokers by 12 percent and would result to at least 250,000 fewer premature smoking-related deaths.

The Side Of Opponents

The new law will prove to be a major challenge for the $100 billion tobacco industry, which, according to The Wall Street Journal, is already facing several difficulties.

On Wednesday, the European Union upheld a law that would ban menthol cigarettes and push for larger warning labels. That same day, the Supreme Court in India ordered tobacco companies to cover 85 percent of packs with graphic warnings.

The move will also hurt tobacco sales in California, which is expected to be reduced by 43 million cigarette packs by 2016 to 2017, California's Board of Equalization said.

Altria Group, Inc., one of the country's largest tobacco company, opposed raising the minimum age, urging the public to defer to Congress and open an informed discussion based on science.

Although the company will not fight the bill, it did not rule out a referendum that would oppose other legislation passed in March.

What's Next?

Sen. Ed Hernandez, author of the bill, expects other states to follow California's move.

"It's going to send a shockwave across the country," says Hernandez.

More than 10 other states are considering such a legislation, including Kentucky, Illinois, Oregon and New York. Lawmakers in Massachusetts have passed a bill in April that raises legal purchase age to 21, but it must still go through the House of Representatives.

Photo: Neon Tommy | Flickr

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