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Tobacco Bills Headed for Senate Floor

It has been a long, strange and winding road for six tobacco bills in the California Legislature leading to Monday’s approval by the state Senate Appropriation Committee, sending them to the Senate floor.

Among the approved package of special session tobacco bills were SBX2-5, by Sen. Mark Leno (D-San Francisco), which seeks to apply the same regulations imposed on traditional cigarettes to electronic cigarettes, and SBX2-7, by Sen. Ed Hernandez (D-West Covina), which would raise the age requirement to buy tobacco products from 18 to 21.

Those two bills seemed dead in committee at the start of July, when they stalled in the Assembly Committee on Governmental Organization. They were revived and placed within the special legislative session on health, and first heard in the Senate Committee on Public Health and Developmental Services.

In his testimony on Monday, Leno cited a statement by the California Department of Public Health, “which recommends that existing laws that currently protect minors and the general public from traditional tobacco products should be extended to cover e-cigarettes, and that’s what our bill will do,” he said.

Hernandez said there were about 18 billion fiscal reasons to raise the legal age to purchase tobacco up to 21. That’s the estimated health care cost associated with tobacco products, he said, along with an estimated $3.5 billion spent every year in Medi-Cal to treat tobacco-related conditions, he said.

“If the potential to save lives is not reason enough,” Hernandez said, “there is also significant potential for cost savings by increasing the age.”

Hernandez said his bill 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.

The other four tobacco bills passed yesterday by the Senate appropriations committee:

  • SBX2-6 by Sen. Bill Monning (D-Carmel) would add hotel lobbies, small businesses, break rooms and tobacco retailers to the list of smoke-free workplaces;
  • SBX2-8 by Sen. Carol Liu (D-La Cañada/Flintridge) would require schools to be smoke-free, including charter schools;
  • SBX2-9 by Sen. Mike McGuire (D-Healdsburg) would allow voters in local jurisdictions and counties to tax tobacco distributors; and
  • SBX2-10 by Sen. Jim Beall (D-San Jose) would start a tobacco licensing fee program for all tobacco products, including e-cigarettes.

Beall’s bill 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.

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