California Assembly to raise smoking age

SAN DIEGO (KUSI) – 10:40 a.m. – California Senators approved legislation that would raise the smoking age from 18 to 21 Thursday. The bills must still face approval by Gov. Jerry Brown. If passed, the legislation would also regulate the use of e-cigarettes.

Friday 4:30 p.m. – California wants to raise the smoking age to 21 and treat e-cigarettes as tobacco products.

The bill cleared the assembly and is expected to pass in the Senate.

This would be a major victory for public health advocates if the governor signs it.

In November, voters will also get the change to hike the tobacco tax by $2.

While this sets up another battle between freedom of choice versus society’s health, the legislation has a lot of discretion when it does something related to the health of the people.

Health issues are generally presumptively valid according to Constitutional Law Professor Glenn Smith of Cal Western Law School.

"The question becomes what are the legal rules that restrict the state legislature which has a lot of broad power to deal with the health and safety of our citizens," Smith said.

The law does exempt the Military and that could give rise to an equal protection issue, but probably not in this case.

"As long as the legislature had a rational basis for making those distinctions that that’s allowed," Smith said.

We got mixed views on targeting the 18 to 21 group from a few young people outside city college.

"The government trying to prohibit any kind of action, it’s not surprising to me," Gabriel Roa, a San Diego resident.

Assembly member Toni Atkins is one of the bill’s supporters.

"I think we feel good again to be leading the Charger," Atkins said.

The voters will decide the tobacco tax increase in November. The last increase, .87 cents in 1998, funded prevention programs and smoking among adults dropped 50 percent.

The initiative would increase the tax by $2 to generate $1.4 billion.

But will it work?

"If you put a restriction on something it makes it more desirable, you say you can’t do something, you want to do it that much more," Atkins said.

The smoking rate in California is the second lowest in the nation behind Utah and we are second behind Hawaii in raising the age to 21.

There’s a lot of money at stake here, raising concerns about both the health and the financial side.

"Whenever you have strong legitimate concerns and feelings it generally spills over into the initiative process and the courts," Smith said.

The last 17 attempts to raise the tobacco tax in California failed.

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