Last week, San Francisco legislators all agreed to raise the buying age of tobacco products from 18 to 21 years old as a measure to prevent the tremendous implications of smoking to the health of young people.

Now, state lawmakers voted to do the same, placing California as the second state in the United States to lift the smoking age from 18 to 21 as part of a variety of measures to control tobacco use.

Aside from tobacco products, the legislation would restrict the use of electronic cigarettes or vapes among teenagers. These popular devices are not regulated by the federal government.

However, before the legislation can become law, Gov. Jerry Brown must sign it first. It has already passed the state Assembly, and a spokesperson of the governor said Brown generally does not comment on impending legislation.

Cathy Callaway, associate director of state and local campaign for the American Cancer Society, said the six bills represent California's biggest anti-tobacco effort in nearly 20 years.

"With California having such a huge population, it's going to be very impactful nationwide," said Callaway.

Only Hawaii has adopted the age-limit legislation statewide. Across the country, more than 120 municipalities such as New York, Cleveland, Kansas City and Boston have also raised the smoking age on their own, according to health watchdog Tobacco 21.

New Jersey was close to passing the bill into law, but it died when Gov. Chris Christie did not act on it before a January deadline.

Adulthood And Responsibilities

California's higher age-limit won approval amid intense opposition from many Republicans and lobbying from tobacco interests.

Opponents of the legislation say the state should stop interfering with people's personal health decisions. They also said American law and custom has long accepted that people who turn 18 can make adult decisions, such as join the military, register to vote, sign legally binding contracts and any legal matter except buying alcohol.

"You can commit a felony when you're 18 years old and for the rest of your life, be in prison," said Chad Mayes, Assembly Republican Leader. "And yet you can't buy a pack of cigarettes."

But advocates note that the vast majority of smokers begin at the age of 18, heightening the risks for addiction and smoking-related health problems.

"We can prevent countless California youth from becoming addicted to this deadly drug, save billions of dollars in direct health care costs and, most importantly, save lives," said Democratic Sen. Ed Hernandez, author of the bill.

In response to complaints, proponents have adjusted the bill by allowing members of the military to continue buying cigarettes at 18.

Meanwhile, the American Academy of Pediatrics and other groups agree in raising the purchasing age of tobacco products in the entire country.

The AAP said [PDF] this measure would prevent early deaths and lung cancer-related deaths. Early deaths would become 223,000 fewer, while lung cancer-related deaths would become 50,000 fewer, the academy said.

Anti-tobacco groups also worry that vapes are enticing young people and may eventually encourage them to smoke cigarettes.

However, vaping industry group Smoke-Free Alternatives Trade Association urged Brown to veto the bill, saying that it could pose problems for vape shops.

If Brown signs the legislation, it would take effect only after 90 days. Smoke-free areas for teens will be extended to bars, workplace breakrooms, warehouses, small businesses, meeting rooms and hotel lobbies. Schools, especially charter schools, would have smoking bans. Counties could increase cigarette taxes beyond $0.87 per pack.

Photo: Charlie Kajio | Flickr

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