California May Raise The Smoking Age To 21, Making Cigarettes Totally Unappealing To Teenagers

Lawmakers in California want to raise the state's smoking age to 21, in a move that some legislators believe may curtail smoking among teens and young adults. State Sen. Ed Hernandez (D-West Covina) introduced the bill, SB 151, on Thursday, with support from various medical associations. Currently, the legal age to smoke and purchase tobacco products in California is 18, which is consistent with 45 other U.S. states.

According to the Los Angeles Times, the American Cancer Society, the California Medical Association and the American Lung Association back the proposed measured. For its rational behind the age increase, the bill states:

The Legislature finds and declares that reducing and eventually eliminating the illegal purchase and consumption of tobacco products by any person under 21 years of age is critical to ensuring the long-term health of our state’s citizens. Accordingly, California must fully comply with federal regulations, particularly the “Synar Amendment,” that restrict tobacco sales to minors and require states to vigorously enforce their laws prohibiting the sale and distribution of tobacco products to persons under 18 years of age.

Hernandez emphasized in a statement released this week that raising the age to 21 would successfully stop teens from picking up the habit — and send a strong message to tobacco companies:

Tobacco companies know that people are more likely to become addicted to smoking if they start at a young age. We can no longer afford to sit on the sidelines while Big Tobacco markets to our kids and gets another generation of young people hooked on a product that will ultimately kill them.
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images News/Getty Images

If the bill passes, then California will become the first U.S. state with a legal smoking age of 21. While several states have raised the minimum smoking age in recent years, none come close to being as high as 21 years of age. In just four states — New Jersey, Alabama, Alaska and Utah — the smoking age is 19.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 18 percent of U.S. adults over the age of 18 currently smoke, accounting for about 42 million Americans in all. The smoking rate has been on a steady decline, but young adults between the ages of 18 and 24 still have one of the highest rates. According to the American Lung Association, 36,000 kids start smoking each year in California alone.

It's apparent that U.S. health officials have been trying to cut back on the once-glamorous appeal of smoking over the last decade. These days, you won't be able to find too smoking ads on broadcast television or in glossy print magazines — and certainly nothing that shows smoking in a positive or favorable light.

Health officials now believe that raising the minimum smoking age may also help counteract the appeal of smoking and attract less teens and young adults to the tobacco habit.

Luther Cobb, MD, president of the California Medical Association, told the LA Times:

[I]ncreasing the age at which people can purchase tobacco from 18 to 21 will help reduce tobacco use in young people, hence reducing the number of preventable diseases.

Images: Getty Images