Ninety percent of current smokers tried their first cigarette before turning 18. (Dave Whelan/Flickr)
State lawmakers want to raise the legal smoking age in California from 18 to 21, arguing the change would reduce smoking rates overall and lower health care costs associated with tobacco use.
State Sen. Ed Hernandez (D-West Covina) introduced Senate Bill 151 on Thursday, saying the new legislation would increase protection for kids under 18 as well.
“It is much easier for someone who is 17 to get cigarettes from a friend who is 18,” he said. “Someone who is 21 is more likely to be in the workforce or in college, and unlikely to have a younger set of friends.”
Studies show that 90 percent of current smokers tried their first cigarette before turning 18. About 95 percent tried smoking before age 21.
“The ages between 18 to 21 are such a critical period because that’s when a lot of smokers move from that experimental smoking period to being regular, daily smokers,” said Lindsey Freitas, senior director at the American Lung Association in California.
If passed, California would be the first state in the country to raise the minimum smoking age to 21. New York City and Healdsburg (Sonoma County) have done so on the municipal level.
Several states rejected similar proposals last year, including Utah, Maryland and Colorado.
Rep. Daniel Kagan opposed a bill in Colorado, saying 18-year-olds are adults who should be persuaded not to smoke, not banned from smoking.
“Do we tell them, you may not do this, we’re going to stop them? Or do we urge them to take responsibility for their actions and treat them like adults?” the Democrat said at the time. “I come down on the side of treating 18-to-20-year-olds like adults.”
Altria Group Inc, an umbrella company that includes tobacco brands like Philip Morris, Marlboro, Parliament and Virginia Slims, did not respond to a request for comment.
The company has opposed past state efforts to raise the minimum smoking age beyond 18, and urged waiting until the results become available from a study by the Food and Drug Administration on the public health implications of raising the smoking age. The findings are due to Congress this year.