Long Beach health officials have expressed support for a bill passed by the State Senate Thursday morning that would increase the tobacco purchase age to 21. The bill is now headed to the governor’s desk.
The legislation, known as Senate BillX27, was passed off the Senate Floor with a 26 to 10 vote, according to a release from the office of Sen. Ed Hernandez, D-West Covina, who authored the bill. Along with prohibiting those under 21 to purchase tobacco, it would also put a restriction on the legal age to purchase or possess tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, however active duty military personnel would be exempt from the potential new law.
“This is California’s chance to make history by drastically reducing Big Tobacco’s ability to target and poison our youth,” Hernandez said in the release. “We will no longer stand idly by while they continue to get generation after generation addicted. We need to make this happen for the sake of our children and the overall health of our state.”
Hernandez serves as the chair of the Senate Committee on Health for the state Senate. The bill is supported by the Save Lives California Coalition, American Heart Association, American Lung Association, American Cancer Society and other major health organizations, according to the release.
Many smokers begin when they are kids or young adults and this group is heavily targeted by the tobacco industry, according to the city’s Bureau of Environmental Health Manager Nelson Kerr. He said the legislation has the potential to create a substantial impact in preventing the youth from smoking or using tobacco products. An approach that he said would ultimately save lives.
“The City of Long Beach supports legislation that enhances public health services, including prevention and intervention services for children and youth who may be at risk for tobacco, drug and alcohol dependency,” said Kerr. “If approved by the Governor, this legislation will provide a promising strategy to reduce smoking and tobacco use among youth in Long Beach and throughout the State. With that in mind, The Long Beach Health Department supports this legislation.”
According to Hernandez’s office, more than 130 local municipalities throughout the country have raised the legal tobacco age to 21. If Gov. Jerry Brown signs the bill it would make California the second state to raise the age to 21.
A study conducted in 2015 by the Institute of Medicine estimated that raising the purchase age of tobacco to 21 will result in 200,000 fewer premature deaths for those born between 2000 and 2019. In the U.S., tobacco use remains the leading cause of preventable death with as many as 34,000 Californians dying annually, the release noted. Officials also noted that tobacco use ends up costing the Medi-Cal system $3.5 billion in direct costs annually.
“This bill saves lives, saves billions of dollars, and will cost virtually nothing to implement,” said Hernandez. “The fierce opposition from Big Tobacco on this measure proves just how important this measure is and how much their business model relies on selling their drug to our kids.”