RELEASE: Tobacco 21 Legislation Signed into Law

May 4, 2016

Law will substantially restrict youth access to tobacco

(Sacramento, CA) –You must now be 21 years of age to purchase tobacco in California. SBX2 7, authored by Senator Ed Hernandez, O.D., was signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown on Wednesday. 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. 

The law will become effective June 9, 2016, which is 90 days after the Legislature voted to end the Second Extraordinary Session pertaining to Health. 

“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,” said Senator Hernandez. “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.”

The bill was the target of fierce opposition from tobacco industry lobbyists in recent weeks, including a referendum threat to go “scorched earth” and buy up signature gatherers to achieve that goal.

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.

“Ultimately, Tobacco 21 will save countless lives, reduce astronomical costs to the health care system, and cost very little because it uses existing enforcement mechanisms,” said Senator Hernandez. “Today was an enormous victory for not only this generation, but also for many generations to come who will not suffer the deadly impacts of tobacco.

This bill is supported by the Save Lives California Coalition, American Heart Association, American Lung Association, American Cancer Society, the California Medical Association, the California Dental Association, other major health organizations, parents and community leaders statewide. 

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

Not approved by the Governor: AB2x 10 (Bloom) Local taxes: authorization: cigarettes and tobacco products

What Others Are Saying:

“Senator Hernandez has worked tirelessly as author of SBX2-7 to increase the legal smoking age to age 21 from the current age of 18. As Chair of the Senate Health Committee, he knows only too well the cost of allowing smoking at a young age, and now with SBX2-7 signed into law by the Governor, he can be proud of the lives he will save by making it more difficult for young adults to become addicted to tobacco products,” said President pro Tempore Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles)

“California's physicians helped start the conversation about raising the age to buy tobacco here over a decade ago,” said Steven Larson, MD, MPH, president of the California Medical Association (CMA). “We're thrilled that its time has come. This law will dramatically reduce Big Tobacco's ability to lure our youth into a lifetime of addiction. We’re proud to stand with Gov. Brown, Senator Hernandez, Assemblymember Wood and the legislature as we enact this life-saving measure.”

“The Governor and the Legislature have put California back at the forefront of tobacco regulation with laws that will fight cancer, help teens avoid a lifetime of addiction and save lives,” said Laphonza Butler, President of SEIU California. “2016 will go down as the year California stood up to this predatory industry.”

“Big Tobacco is panicking because 90 percent of smokers get hooked before the age of 21 and you have to only follow the money to see where the health devastation leads. Half of adult smokers will die from a tobacco-related disease,” said American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network California Vice President Jim Knox. “ACS CAN is proud Governor Brown is making California a leader in just saying no to tobacco profits over public health.”

“By increasing the age to purchase tobacco to 21, we are ensuring that a new generation of youth never begin a habit that could cost them their lives,” said Vanessa Marvin, Vice President, Public Policy and Advocacy, with the American Lung Association in California “We are proud that California has once again taken steps to push back against the tobacco industry’s insidious habit of targeting our children.”

“We applaud Governor Brown and California lawmakers for putting California’s public health first,” said Kathy Rogers, Executive Vice President of the American Heart Association and American Stroke Association Western States Affiliate. “The Governor’s actions will do even more to protect youth and adults from the harmful impacts of tobacco.”