Six anti-tobacco bills were approved by the state Senate such as measures that would raise the smoking age in California from 18 to 21 and ban electronic cigarettes from restaurants, movie theaters and other public places where smoking is barred.
The Senate also sent the Assembly bills that allow countries to impose tobacco taxes, outlaw tobacco use at schools, plug loopholes in a smoking ban in workplaces and boost the licensing fee for tobacco retailers. All of the bills next go to the Assembly for consideration.
In response to a federal study which found that use of e-cigarettes by teenagers has tripled in the last few years, Sen. Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) proposed the new restrictions on e-cigarettes.
"This is important because the fastest growing segment of the e-cigarette market is middle and high school students," Leno told his colleagues, noting that 11 other states, including Colorado and Minnesota, have similar laws.
E-cigarettes use vapour and not combustible tobacco which are safer and often used by smokers to transition away from the smoking habit, say the tobacco industries fighting the legislation.
Though most of them opposed the measure, Sen. Jeff Stone (R-Murrieta) voted for the bill, telling that family members and friends have died from smoking related illnesses. "We need to get ahead of this public health nightmare," Stone said during the debate. Sen. Ed Hernandez (D-West Covina) pushed the measure to increase the smoking age from 18 to 21 years. "We cannot continue to sit by while these tobacco companies continue to poison generation after generation with their addictive products," said Hernandez.
But others argues that if the people of California can join the military and fight in wars at age of 18, they ought to be able to decide whether to smoke. "These people are adults who are willing to put their life on the line for their country and they ought to be able to go buy a pack of cigarettes if they want to," said Pete Conaty, a lobbyist for the American Legion.
But Sen. Joel Anderson (R-San Diego) opposed the piecemeal restrictions on tobacco, including the measure allowing counties to raise taxes. "If we want to ban cigarettes, lets just ban them," Anderson said in criticizing the new anti tobacco measures.
The new Bill approved bu the Senate on August 27 would allow the state Board of Equalization to charge a a $265 licensing fee to tobacco retailers every year rather than a one-time fee of $100, and increase the existing $1,000 annual licensing fee assessed on tobacco distributors to $1,200. This change would raise an extra $11.1 million per year to help the state enforce laws on the industry, according to estimates.
A coalition called Save Lives California that includes the California Medical Assn., the American Cancer Society, the American Lung Assn. and the Service Employees International Union supported the package of 6 bills, and a separate measure to boost the tobacco tax by $2 per pack.