California could become the state with the highest minimum smoking age in the U.S. if a bill proposed by state Sen. Ed Hernandez (D-Azusa) on Thursday would make it through the legislature.

In a statement released Friday, Hernandez pointed out that tobacco companies are aware that people tend to become addicted to smoking if they start the habit at young age. Senate Bill 151 proposes to increase the legal smoking age in California from 18 to 21 years old in a bid to curb tobacco smoking in children and young adults.

The American Lung Association in California says that nine in ten smokers take up the smoking habit by the time they reach 18 years old and 36,000 kids in the Golden State starts to smoke each year.

"We can no longer afford to sit on the sidelines while big tobacco markets to our kids and gets another generation of young people hooked on a product that will ultimately kill them," Hernandez said.

Once it is successfully passed, Senate Bill 151 would make California the first state to increase the minimum smoking age by as high as 21 years old. It is worth noting though that similar proposals have failed in Maryland, Colorado, New Jersey and Utah.

Besides prohibiting the sale of tobacco products to individuals younger than 21 years old, the bill would also give authorization to state health officials to conduct random and onsite inspection of retailers of tobacco product to ensure that they comply with the proposed legislation. The bill would also ban tobacco and smokeless tobacco product advertisements to those who are below the age of 21.

Cigarette smoking is the number one cause of preventable death in the U.S. being responsible for over 480,000 deaths per year, figures from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show. The habit is associated with lung cancer, emphysema and chronic bronchitis.

Majority of U.S. states have set the legal smoking age at 18 years old but some have raised it at 19. Some cities and counties though including New York City already increased the smoking age to 21 years old.

Among those that support the proposal include the American Cancer Society, the Cancer Action Network and the American Lung Association.

California Medical Association president Luther Cobb said that raising the age when people can legally purchase tobacco to 21 years can curb the use of tobacco in young people and reduce the incidence of preventable diseases.

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