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E-cigarette restrictions among six tobacco bills proposed for special session

E-cigarette restrictions among six tobacco bills proposed for special session
State lawmakers announced six anti-tobacco bills Thursday as part of the Legislature’s special session on public health. (Michael Robinson Chavez / Los Angeles Times)

A week after a similar bill failed, state lawmakers on Thursday revived a proposal that would ban the use of electronic cigarettes in public places, including restaurants, where smoking is already prohibited.

The measure by Sen. Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) is one of six anti-tobacco bills announced Thursday as part of the Legislature’s special session on health.

Others would close loopholes in smoke-free workplace laws that allow smoking in break rooms and parts of hotel lobbies, increase the minimum age for those buying tobacco products to 21, require all schools to be tobacco-free and allow cities and counties to tax tobacco products.

The tobacco bills will be heard during the special session declared by the governor to address financial issues in healthcare, according to Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins (D-San Diego) and Senate leader Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles).

"Tobacco is the leading cause of preventable death and disease in the United States, and treating tobacco-related illnesses costs California taxpayers billions of dollars," the two leaders said in a joint statement. "We applaud our members for taking on this public-health crisis for the people of California."

Leno's previous bill, which would have designated electronic cigarettes as tobacco products, was gutted and blocked July 8 in the Assembly Governmental Organization Committee, which is dominated by business-friendly members who have accepted large amounts of campaign contributions from the tobacco industry.

Different committees will consider the new bills during the special session, so Leno has a chance to win approval of his bill. It will bypass the Governmental Organization Committee. An identical bill was introduced in the Assembly to make passage easier.

"I am inspired by the Legislature's bold move to prevent tobacco-related diseases, reduce smoking among youth and renew the call for statewide regulations on electronic cigarettes," Leno said in a statement. "Decades ago the tobacco industry tried to fool us into believing that filtered cigarettes were a healthier alternative to traditional cigarettes, and now they're making the same claims about e-cigarettes. The fact is that they're using a new delivery system, which is currently addicting the children of California to toxic nicotine."

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Sen. Ed Hernandez (D-West Covina) is also reviving his recently failed bill that would increase the smoking age in California from 18 to 21.

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The bills were pushed for inclusion in the special session by the Save Lives California coalition, which includes health groups including the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network and the California Medical Assn.

"This package of bills represents a tremendous step forward for a healthier California," said Luther Cobb, president of the association. "These bills will help to keep tobacco out of the hands of our youth while also helping to increase the overall health and wellness of Californians."

Other bills introduced for the special session include measures that would:

  • Close loopholes in smoke-free workplace laws, including hotel lobbies, small businesses, break rooms, and tobacco retailers.
  • Require all schools to be tobacco-free.
  • Allow local jurisdictions to tax tobacco.
  • Establish an annual Board of Equalization tobacco licensing fee program with an annual fee rather then one charged just one time.

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