On Wednesday, May 4, 2016, Governor Jerry Brown of California signed various new bills which became law, including one that will raise the smoking age in California from 18 to 21 years of age, another that will restrict the use of electronic cigarettes in public places and another that will expand the no-smoking areas in public schools.
At the same time, Governor Brown vetoed a bill that would have allowed individual counties to seek its voters’ approval of new local tobacco taxes to pay for health care expenses associated with tobacco related illnesses. Brown’s explanation was there are too many taxes already being proposed on the 2016 ballot so he did not want any more taxes.
The bill limiting smoking to those 21 years of age and older is being referred to as “Tobacco 21”. It, with the other new tobacco related bills, is being called the “most expansive” effort to control tobacco use in California in more than ten (10) years. These bills were not surprisingly supported by a coalition of health related groups, including the American Cancer Society, the American Heart Association, the American Lung Association and the California Medical Association.
The tobacco industry, also not surprisingly, threatened to seek a referendum vote to overturn the bills that raised the smoking age to 21 and that restricted the use of e-cigarettes. That threat reminds us of when several years ago the insurance industry actually spent millions of dollars on a referendum to take away consumer rights and with its vast resources and spending power actually tricked voters to give up their rights to arbitrate smaller car accident cases instead of having to face much more expensive and time consuming jury trials. The insurers did this to deter consumers from pursing their California personal injury claims and, as a result, saved the insurance industry much money and increased their profits at the expense of consumer rights. Aware of this new, similar threat from the tobacco industry, the California lawmakers reportedly employed certain procedures to make it more difficult for tobacco companies to qualify any such referendum on the California ballot.
California is only the second state to raise smoking limits to 21, after Hawaii.
According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, as cited in the Los Angeles Times on May 5, 2016, about 90% of tobacco users start before the age of 21 and about 80% of tobacco users first tried tobacco before the age of 18.
While most everyone agrees cigarette smoking is very harmful and causes cancer and heart and lung disease, and this problem was greatly compounded as it was learned some actually added chemicals to certain tobacco products to make them addicting, the question arises as what should be the role of the government, whether federal, state or local, in telling its citizens and others what products they can and cannot use?
Further, by raising the age from 18 to 21, the California government is now telling its citizens that you are old enough to be in the military and fight for your country, and work and drive a truck, but not smoke.
Is it the place of government to allow its citizens to join the military and work, but not legally be able to have a beer or smoke?
And what effect, if any, will this have on medical marijuana and other bills intended to legalize the use of marijuana in California?
To what extent should government tell its citizens what to do and not do when one’s conduct does not directly injure others?
Is there an analogy to the motorcycle helmet law – that is, the government needs to step in because cancer care, like serious head injuries from helmetless motorcycle riders, handicaps taxpayers who often foot the very expensive health care charges for individuals who cannot afford such care?
These are many interesting issues and we are interested to know your thoughts.
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