Legislation to Raise Tobacco Purchase Age Passes Through the Senate

June 2, 2015

Immediate Release                                             Contact: Janet Chin, Comm. Dir.
June 2, 2015                                                                                (626)430-2499
Legislation to Raise Tobacco Purchase Age Passes Through the Senate 
Bill Aims to Reduce Smoking by Restricting Teen Access to Tobacco Products
Sacramento, CA – Senate Bill 151 cleared another major hurdle today as it passed out of the Senate by a vote of 26-8.  Senator Dr. Ed Hernandez, O.D. (D–West Covina), Chair of the Senate Health Committee, introduced the bill in January that would increase the minimum legal sale age for tobacco products from 18 to 21. The bill now moves to the Assembly.

“We will not sit on the sidelines while big tobacco markets to our kids and gets another generation of young people hooked on a product that will ultimately kill them,” said Hernandez. “Tobacco companies know that people are more likely to become addicted to smoking if they start at a young age.” 

In March, the Institute of Medicine released a study examining how increasing the minimum legal sale age for tobacco products would impact tobacco use trends. They concluded increasing the age to 21 would result in 200,000 fewer premature deaths for those born between the years 2000 and 2019 and cause a more rapid decline in tobacco prevalence. 

Tobacco remains the leading cause of preventable death in the United States with 480,000 people dying annually – 40,000 from effects of secondhand smoke. According to the CDC, tobacco use kills more people per year than alcohol, murders, illegal drugs, AIDS, and motor vehicle accidents combined. 

Aside from the vast human toll, tobacco is a heavy burden financially. The Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids estimates that direct health care expenditures related solely to smoking in California amount to approximately $13.3 billion annually – with about $3.5 billion in Medi-Cal costs.  
“As Henry Waxman once said, cigarettes are the single most dangerous consumer product ever sold,” remarked Hernandez, “We need to wake up and stop making it so easy for tobacco companies to poison generation after generation of Californians.”

Hawaii passed a similar measure in April of this year that is still awaiting Governor Ige’s signature. SB 151 would make California either the first or second state in the nation, depending on the fate of the bill in Hawaii, to raise the legal smoking age to 21.