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State Senate panel approves package of six anti-tobacco bills

State Senate panel approves package of six anti-tobacco bills
A state Senate panel has voted to approve a bill that would raise the minimum age to buy tobacco products to 21. (Michael Robinson Chavez / Los Angeles Times)

A Senate panel on Wednesday approved a package of six anti-tobacco bills, including measures raising the smoking age to 21 and barring the use of electronic cigarettes in public places such as restaurants where smoking is banned.

Both the age increase and e-cigarette bills had stalled in the Legislature, but were revived for a special session on healthcare and approved by a new Senate Committee on Public Health and Developmental Services. Republicans did not vote for any of the bills in the package.

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Sen. Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) proposed the measure that would designate e-cigarettes or vaping devices as tobacco products subject to the same restrictions on public use as traditional, combustible cigarettes.

"The fastest growing market segment of this very quickly growing industry is made up of children of middle- and high-school ages," Leno told the committee. "Students who have never smoked a traditional cigarette are using e-cigarettes."

The bill also allows sting operations to catch retailers who sell vaping devices to minors and requires child-resistant packaging. "It will definitely protect the next generation," he said.

The measure was opposed by the Smoke Free Alternative Trade Assn. as an attack on a product that it says has helped some smokers quite traditional cigarettes.

The bill would "stymie a growing industry," said the association's Michael Mullins.

The measure does not itself contain a tax, but Kari Hess, co-owner of Nor Cal Vape in Redding, said the legislation will lead to taxing the industry.

"This bill will make vapor products cost prohibitive and I may be forced to close my doors," Hess told the panel.

The bill raising the age to legally buy cigarettes from 18 to 21 was introduced by Sen. Ed Hernandez (D-West Covina), who said it will significantly reduce the number of young people who take up smoking and result in significantly lower health costs.

"It should not be so easy for our children to get ahold of this deadly drug," Hernandez told the panel.

Opponents, including Pete Conaty, a lobbyist for veterans groups, argued that if residents are old enough to join the military and fight in wars at 18, they ought to be able to decide whether to smoke.

Other bills approved by the committee and sent to a Senate finance panel for consideration would:

  • Require all schools, including a growing number of charter schools, to be designated as smoke free.

  • Close loopholes in smoke-free workplace laws, extending them to hotel lobbies, small businesses, break rooms and warehouses.

  • Allow county voters to tax tobacco distributors.

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