California Bill Signed to Make Smoking Age 21

     SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) — California’s legal smoking age will climb to 21 this summer and e-cigarettes will be tightly regulated after Gov. Jerry Brown signed a package of anti-tobacco bills late Wednesday.
     Brown signed five Democratic-sponsored bills, including a proposal that expands workplace and school-smoking restrictions as well as increased licensing fees for tobacco distributors and wholesalers. E-cigarettes or vapes will also be defined and regulated as tobacco products and banned in the same places as cigarettes.
     The bills stalled last year in the state Assembly but landed on the governor’s desk following a year of debate after lawmakers revived the proposals during a special session on health care.
     As the bills passed through the Legislature in March, the tobacco industry threatened “scorched earth” and suggested they would spend millions to undermine other Democratic initiatives, specifically a $2-per-pack tax on cigarettes and a prison sentencing reform being led by Brown.
     The Legislature responded to the threats by intentionally withholding the bills for more than a month. Brown stalled the bills as well, signing them 12 days after they reached his desk.
     California joins Hawaii as the only states with a legal smoking age of 21. The change takes effect June 9.
     State Sen. Ed Hernandez, D-Azusa, said Brown’s approval signals a victory against the tobacco industry’s persistent threats. He called the bills the “most expansive tobacco-control package passed in decades.”
     “The governor’s signature on Tobacco 21 is a signal that California presents a united front against Big Tobacco. Together, we stand to disrupt the chain of adolescent addiction,” Hernandez said in a statement. “The fierce opposition from Big Tobacco on this measure proves just how important this law is and how much their business model relies on targeting our kids.”
     Brown did veto a bill Wednesday that would have allowed individual counties to set tobacco-tax rates through local voter approval.
     “Although California has one of the lowest cigarette taxes in the nation, I am reluctant to approve this measure in view of all the taxes being proposed for the 2016 ballot,” Brown wrote in a veto message.
     Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, D-Paramount, said that while California “is once again” leading the nation on important issues, Brown’s veto of the tax scheme was a mistake.
     “That veto robs local voters of the ability to address problems from health care to homelessness, and that’s a major lost opportunity for local governments up and down the state,” Rendon said in a statement.
     Republican lawmakers have criticized their colleagues for inserting the anti-tobacco bills into a special session dedicated to fixing the state’s bloated social health care system — essentially bypassing the normal legislative process.
     The sweeping tobacco changes will be significantly delayed if opponents are able to quickly organize and qualify a referendum in time for the November ballot.

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