Tobacco 21

California’s TOBACCO 21 Law

You must now be 21 years of age to purchase tobacco in California. Senate BillX2 7, authored by Senator Ed Hernandez, O.D. (D-West Covina), was signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown. The bill is part of the most expansive tobacco control package passed in decades and makes California a leader in the nation for tobacco control. 

“California is sending a strong message that we will not tolerate Big Tobacco’s deceptive marketing of this lethal product aimed at addicting our kids,” said Senator Hernandez, chair of the Senate Health Committee. “This law will save countless lives and reduce costs in our health care system. This is a victory not only for Californians today, but for generations to come who will not have to experience first-hand the deadly impacts of tobacco.”

In addition, since Governor Jerry Brown signed into law a package of anti-tobacco bills, electronic cigarettes are now classified as tobacco, so users will need to be 21 or older to purchase these products.

When will the law become effective?

The law will become effective June 9, 2016, which applies to traditional tobacco products, including cigarettes, chewing tobacco and vaping. It does not apply to active duty military personnel.  

When the law goes into effect, any person or business that sells or gives tobacco to people under age 21 could be found guilty of a misdemeanor and subject to fines.

Who will be enforcing the new law?

The California Department of Public Health (CDPH) will be enforcing the new purchase age, in the same fashion as it enforced the law previously through the STAKE Act. CDPH will be sending updated information and signage to businesses.

What does this mean for businesses?

Businesses cannot sell tobacco or tobacco products to anyone under 21 years old.

Starting June 9, electronic cigarettes will be classified as tobacco products, so they will fall under the same legal age restriction. The law now states that tobacco includes an electronic device that delivers nicotine or other vaporized liquids to the person inhaling from the device, including, but not limited to, an electronic cigarette, cigar, pipe, or hookah.

Employees under the age of 21 are still able to sell tobacco products. The new law applies to purchase of tobacco products.

Medical marijuana is regulated separately from tobacco, so it does not fall under this law.

What are the benefits of raising the age to purchase tobacco?

By increasing the tobacco age to 21, this new law will substantially restrict youth access to tobacco.

A 2015 federal Institute of Medicine (IOM) study found that roughly 90 percent of adults who became daily smokers reported that they first began using cigarettes before reaching 19 years of age. The IOM report concluded that increasing the minimum age to 21 would result in 200,000 fewer premature deaths for those born between the years 2000 and 2019.

Additionally, disease from tobacco use is a major driver of health care costs, with upwards of $3.5 billion annually in Medi-Cal costs, and as much as $18 billion to the overall health care system.

What other bills were signed into law?

SB 2X 7 is part of the most expansive tobacco control legislative package in over a decade. Other measures approved by the Governor include: 

What other states have raised the smoking age to 21?

California and Hawaii are the only two states in the nation to increase the legal age to purchase tobacco to 21.

There are 17 other states that have pending legislation to do the same: Connecticut, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, Washington, and West Virginia, and Washington, D.C. Numerous cities have already voted to raise the minimum age. 

Where can I find additional information?

Please visit the California Department of Public Health's Tobacco 21 website for more information on implementation of the new law. 

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