LOS ANGELES – California is looking to restore its reputation for agenda-setting tobacco regulation with measures to raise the smoking age to 21, triple per-pack taxes and regulate e-cigarettes the same as conventional products.
The American Cancer Society and other supporters contend California, which passed the first smoke-free workplace law in 1994, has slipped behind other states in regulating and taxing tobacco use.
Hawaii this year became the first state to raise the minimum age to 21, while scores of others have raised taxes and banished smoking from workplaces.
“California used to lead the nation in tobacco control,” said Jim Knox, the American Cancer Society’s vice president of government relations in the state. “We’ve fallen to the back of the pack now. There’s no question that these bills collectively will put California into the leading position in tobacco control.”
E-cigarette companies are fighting attempts to treat their products the same as cigarettes, while tobacco producers are pushing back on state-level age restrictions.
Bill Phelps, a spokesman for Altria Group Inc., the No. 1 cigarette manufacturer, said states should wait for the federal government to act. The Institute of Medicine this year produced a report for the Food and Drug Administration that concluded that higher minimum ages would “likely prevent or delay initiation of tobacco use by adolescents and young adults.”
“This is a complex issue and Congress has established a thoughtful process to better understand it,” Phelps said in an e-mail. “We believe states and localities should defer to this process and allow the FDA and Congress the opportunity to think through this issue.”
A bill introduced by state Sen. Richard Pan, a Sacramento Democrat who is a pediatrician, would add $2 per pack of 20 cigarettes to California’s 87 cent tax. Most proceeds from the tax, estimated at $1.3 billion a year, would go toward the costs of treating tobacco-related diseases.
If the legislation is approved and signed by Gov. Jerry Brown, California would have the ninth-highest tobacco tax in the nation. New York is first with $4.35 a pack. The federal tax is $1.01 per pack.
Pan said California’s public health care system spends $18.1 billion a year to treat smoking-related illnesses.
The state Senate on Thursday passed a bill by Sen. Mark Leno, a San Francisco Democrat, to regulate e-cigarettes under smoke-free laws.