Smoking age raised to 21

On June 9, laws signed by Gov. Jerry Brown raised California’s smoking age from 18 to 21.

The law, which applies the new age to the purchase and sale of tobacco products, also tightened restrictions on the use of e-cigarettes, commonly known as vaping.

As part of the laws, e-cigarettes are regulated similar to traditional tobacco products, eliminating most exemptions that permit smoking or vaping in places like bars or hotel lobbies. Smoke-free laws were broadened to cover entire school properties at all times.

Active members of the military are exempted, and can still purchase tobacco or e-cigarette products from 18 years old on. Gov. Brown also vetoed a bill that would have allowed some cities and counties to establish their own respective tobacco taxes.

In the Mountain Area, businesses and citizens reacted to the news with mixed opinions.

“I think it’s great,” said Kellee Metzger, a North Fork resident. “I think it’s getting to the point where people, kids, are just doing this vaping thing because it’s cool to them. It’s not. They’re doing it when you’re in restaurants, when you’re in a store, and I don’t think that’s right.”

“I don’t think this is going to change smoking habits at all,” said Carree Riggs of Oakhurst. “I mean, it’ll be like drinking, where they’ll just find someone else to buy cigarettes for them.”

“It’s probably going to hurt the business,” an employee at Oakhurst’s Twisted Pipe Smoke Shop said. “But I think it’s better for the kids this way.”

Nationally, health organizations applauded the laws while industry groups, particularly those in favor of e-cigarette use, criticized the changes as impractical.

“We applaud Governor Brown and California lawmakers for putting California’s public health first,” wrote Kathy Rogers, executive vice president of the American Heart Association. “The Governor’s courageous actions will do even more to protect youth and adults from the harmful impacts of tobacco.”

“California took a step backwards today by reclassifying vapor products as tobacco,” wrote the Smoke-Free Alternatives Trade Association, which works with electronic cigarette manufacturers. “Stigmatizing vapor products, which contain no tobacco, and treating them the same as combustible tobacco while actively seeking to economically penalize smokers attempting to switch is counterproductive to public health.”

The American Heart Association estimates tobacco use kills 40,000 Californians a year.