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California Lawmakers Vote To Raise Smoking Age To 21

A smoker in San Francisco holds a cigarette. If Gov. Jerry Brown signs the bill, California will become the second state to raise the age limit for buying tobacco products from 18 to 21.

The California Senate voted Thursday to raise the legal age to buy tobacco products from 18 to 21. The measure is part of a larger package of legislation aimed at cracking down on tobacco.

If Gov. Jerry Brown signs the bill, California will become the second state, after Hawaii, to raise the age limit for buying cigarettes and other tobacco products. More than 100 cities around the country, including New York and Boston, have already raised the age limit.

A week ago, the California Assembly approved the measure, which — in addition to raising the age limit — regulates electronic cigarettes the same as tobacco products, expands smoke-free areas, increases smoking bans and allows counties to levy higher taxes on cigarettes than the 87-cent per pack state tax. According to NPR member station KQED, the Assembly's vote came a few days after the San Francisco Board of Supervisors increased the age to buy tobacco products to 21.

California lawmakers passed the bill despite lobbying from tobacco interests, the Associated Press reports. The measure also faced opposition from many Republicans, who said the state should not be involved in policing people's personal choices.

"I don't smoke. I don't encourage my children to," said Republican Assemblyman Donald Wagner, according to KQED. "But they're adults, and it's our job to treat our citizens as adults, not to nanny them."

But proponents of the bill say raising the age to 21 moves legally purchased tobacco that much farther from younger kids.

"This will save the medical system in the outgoing years millions of dollars," said Democratic Assemblyman Jim Wood, according to KQED. "It will save thousands of lives."

As the AP reported, a 2015 study by the Institute of Medicine "found that if the minimum legal age to buy tobacco were raised to 21 nationwide, tobacco use would drop by 12 percent by the time today's teens reached adulthood. In addition, there would be 223,000 fewer premature deaths and 50,000 fewer deaths from lung cancer."

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