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California Governor Signs Bill Increasing Age to Buy Tobacco

(CBSNews) SACRAMENTO -- Gov. Jerry Brown has signed the bill increasing the legal age to buy tobacco in California to 21, as well as four other tobacco related measures regulating e-cigarettes and smoking in the workplace, CBS Sacramento reported.

Supporters of the age change said it was intended to deter adolescents from the harmful, sometimes fatal effects of nicotine addiction. The Institute of Medicine reports that 90 percent of daily smokers began using tobacco before turning 19.

In April, Hawaii became the first state in the nation to raise the legal smoking age to 21. More than 100 local jurisdictions around the country have made the change, including New York, Chicago and San Francisco.

Sen. Ed Hernandez, D-Azusa, author of the bill to raise the legal age, expects other states to follow California's lead.

"It's going to send a shockwave across the country," Hernandez said.

Anyone who gives tobacco or tobacco paraphernalia to someone under 21 could be found guilty of a misdemeanor crime, under the new law. It goes into effect June 9.

"It is long past due for California to update our approach to tobacco, and with the Governor's signature on these life-saving bills, we have done just that," said Steven Larson, MD, MPH, president of the California Medical Association, in a statement.

Veterans' organizations and Republican lawmakers in California objected to the bill, saying people old enough to die for their country are old enough to use tobacco.

The California proposal stalled for six months until lawmakers agreed to retain the 18-year-old tobacco age for military personnel and passed it in early March.

The Institute of Medicine reported in March 2015 that increasing the smoking age to 21 would immediately deter 15 percent of people 18-20 from taking up a lasting tobacco habit.

The study, conducted at the request of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, found that raising the minimum smoking age above 20 "will mean that those who can legally obtain tobacco are less likely to be in the same social networks as high school students."

Brown, a Democrat, also signed bills to regulate electronic cigarettes, set annual tobacco license fees, push for all charter schools to be tobacco free and expand existing requirements for tobacco-free workplaces to include small businesses, break rooms and hotel lobbies. He vetoed a bill that would have allowed local governments to establish tobacco taxes.

Brown was out of public office when California became the first state in the nation to ban smoking in public places in 1995 then to expand the law in 1998. He did not chime in publicly on 1998, 2006 or 2012 ballot initiatives that sought additional fees on cigarettes.

Then-mayor of New York Michael Bloomberg donated $500,000 to support the 2012 initiative, which was heavily outspent by tobacco interests and narrowly defeated.

Altria, the parent company of Philip Morris, gave $54,000 to Brown's 2014 re-election campaign.

Anti-tobacco groups are collecting signatures to raise cigarette taxes from $0.87 per pack to $2. They notified state officials in February that they've collected at least 25 percent of the 535,407 signatures they'll need to place the question on the November ballot.

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