Will California Be First to Raise Smoking Age to 21?

Beverly Irwin
El Vaquero Staff Writer

“The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.”

The Mark Twain quote could well refer to the California State Assembly Bill 1680 that was recently amended to include raising the smoking age in California to 21.

The original proposal, which failed to pass a Senate committee in late August, was quickly attached to another bill that was passed by the Assembly two days later, 50-14.

Now it must meet approval of the Assembly Governmental Organization and Appropriations committees.
Following the urging of the California Medical Association, legislators believe that raising the age from 18 to 21 will prevent teenagers from becoming addicted to tobacco products.

Studies have shown that people who reach 21 without becoming smokers are less likely to begin the habit.
If it does pass it will mean that California will have the strictest tobacco laws in the country. At the moment 47 states have a minimum age of 18 for buying tobacco, with three states, Alabama, Alaska and Utah, set at 19.

But if it does pass it could also mean a cost to the state of more than $25 million in tobacco-tax revenue, much of which would be made up in public health cost savings, believes Assemblyman Paul Koretz (D-West Hollywood), who introduced the original measure.

In a random telephone poll taken by ABC News in June, 63 percent supported raising the age to 21 in their state with 34 percent opposing the idea, while a Web poll conducted by Sacramento television station KOVR 13 found 54 percent in support of raising the age limit in California.

An informal poll of students on GCC campus provided a positive response.
Arwyn Birch, a 22-year-old smoker, thinks the new legislation is a good idea and will not be difficult to enforce.

“It’s easy for 16-year-olds to get [cigarettes],”she said. “They hang out with 18-year-olds, but you don’t have 16-year-olds hanging out with 21-year-olds.” She believes it would make a positive difference.

Twenty-one-year-old nursing student Nancy Lopez likes the idea of a raised age limit. “It would be better,” she said, “I disapprove of tobacco but it’s allowed in school [GCC]so there’s not much I can do. It’s always around but I must cope with it.”

Heidi Tsuruoka, 26, a non-smoker, agreed. “It will still be easy to get [cigarettes] with fake IDs.”

She compared the situation to drinking in countries where there is less restriction and where excessive drinking is less of a problem than it is here.

“People rebel against authority,” she said. “In Holland, marijuana is not restricted and it’s not a problem. It’s mainly the tourists these days,” she added.