California Tightens Restrictions on Tobacco

California recently made it more difficult for young people to get tobacco, and experts hope that the move will have a variety of long-term benefits.

On May 4, California Governor Jerry Brown signed several smoking-related bills. When the laws went into effect on June 9, California became the second state in the nation to ban the sale of tobacco products to anyone under the age of 21, with an exemption granted to active-duty military personnel. Hawaii’s ban on tobacco sales to individuals under the age of 21 went into effect Jan. 1.

In addition to prohibiting the sale of cigarettes, cigars, smokeless tobacco, and other tobacco products to consumers under the age of 21, California’s new laws also accomplished the following:

  • Banned the sale of electronic cigarettes to anyone under the age of 21, except active-duty military personnel
  • Expanded the prohibition on use of tobacco products to include owner-owned business as well as hotel lobbies, bars and taverns, banquet rooms, warehouse facilities, and employee break rooms
  • Prohibited the use of e-cigarettes, vaporizers (which are also commonly referred to as vapes), and similar devices in all places where the use of tobacco is already barred
  • Expanded funding for school-based tobacco-prevention programs to include charter schools

A variety of individuals and organizations who are active in the realm of public health, including the American Heart Association, the American Cancer Society, the American Lung Association, and the president of the California Medical Association, expressed support for these changes.

The California legislature is not the only government agency to take steps to rein in the use of tobacco, e-cigarettes, vapes, and similar devices. On May 5, the day after Gov. Brown signed California’s bills, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced that e-cigarettes, hookahs, and other smoking products will soon be regulated in a manner similar to how the federal government also controls cigarettes, cigars, and smokeless tobacco.

On both the federal and state levels, the new laws and regulations are designed both to curtail current behaviors and to limit future problems. For example, with studies showing that e-cigarettes and vapes are popular among young adults and teenagers, experts are concerned that the widespread use of these devices may encourage individuals to eventually switch to tobacco.

Health experts have long been concerned about tobacco use among children and adolescents, both because of the direct effects of tobacco and because of the association between smoking and additional types of substance abuse. According to the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), adolescents ages 12 to 17 who use tobacco are 11 times more likely than non-smokers in the same age group to use illicit drugs, and 16 times more likely to abuse alcohol. Also, the Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) has reported that individuals who smoke cigarettes during childhood are three times more likely to use marijuana and four times more likely to engage in cocaine abuse as are individuals who avoided tobacco during childhood.

The popularity of e-cigarettes among young people runs counter to a continued decrease in tobacco abuse among U.S. adolescents. For example, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report that 2.3 percent of middle school students and 9.3 percent of high school students reported past-month tobacco use in 2015, decreases of 53 percent and 58.9 percent, respectively, from 2011. However, during that same time period, e-cigarette use rose from 0.6 percent to 5.3 percent among middle school students and from 1.5 percent to 16 percent among high school students.

Stopping teens from using tobacco can significantly reduce the likelihood that they will smoke later in life. According to data collected by the CDC, nearly 90 percent of adult smokers had their first cigarette by age 18. Given these statistics, California legislators hope that their actions will yield many long-term benefits, including continued reduction of smoking rates throughout the state and a decline in the prevalence of the many secondary and co-occurring problems that are associated with tobacco abuse.