Public Policy Side of Smoking Restriction

On Thursday, the chair of the Senate Committee on Health introduced a bill (SB 151) to shift the age restriction on tobacco use from 18 to age 21.

SB 151 by Sen. Ed Hernandez (D-West Covina) would change the age restriction for all tobacco products currently regulated in California. E-cigarettes are not included in the legislation, Hernandez said.

“I thought this would be good public policy,” Hernandez said. “If you look at what we’ve done to protect consumers, with seatbelts, with raising the drinking age to 21, with car seats for children, that’s all good public policy.”

The move carries some public policy implications that go beyond the health issues of those young people directly affected by the bill, Hernandez said. The various health maladies linked to smoking — such as cancer, emphysema and cardiovascular disease — are a hazard to more people than just the ones smoking, Hernandez said.

“By raising the age [restriction], we’re going to save on overall health care costs. From a public policy standpoint, look at what smoking does to our society, the devastating effect it has had on Californians and on our health care system,” Hernandez said.

“I sit as chair of the Health Committee, and the biggest thing we look at is controlling costs,” he said. “Well, this is the biggest way to not spend any money and save billions of dollars.”

Hernandez said one of the biggest concerns at Covered California is trying to keep premium costs low. High-cost emphysema patients drive those premium costs up for everyone, Hernandez said.

Hernandez said he knows the looming fight in the Legislature is going to be a big one.

“Anything that makes a difference in people’s lives is going to be difficult.… They’re all hard fights. That’s one way you know they’re worthwhile. If it’s easy to get through, then you’re not changing how we do things or think about things,” Hernandez said.

A similar proposal in the Legislature in 2002 — AB 1453 by then-Assembly member Paul Koretz (D-West Hollywood) — failed on the Senate floor.

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