June 9, 2016 marks an important day in California’s 26 year history to combat the addiction, disease and death caused by tobacco as new tobacco control laws go into effect. It is clear that California is prioritizing health, particularly of our young people and future generations, over the profits of these harmful and addictive products.
Governor Brown signed five significant tobacco control bills into law. These include:
- SB 5 X2 (Leno) – Adds e-cigarettes to existing tobacco products definition.
- SB 7 X2 (Hernandez) – Increases the age of sale for tobacco products from 18 to 21.
- AB 7 X2 (Stone) – Closes loopholes in the state smoke-free workplace law.
- AB 9 X2 (Thurmond) – Requires all schools to be tobacco-free.
- AB 11 X2 (Nazarian) – Increases licensing fees on tobacco businesses.
California’s hope for healthier future generations is exemplified with two new laws in particular. The minimum age of sale for tobacco increases from 18 to 21, and for the first time e-cigarettes are added to the existing definition of tobacco products.
California’s approximately 35,000 tobacco retailers, including vape shops, must comply with the new Tobacco 21 law, and ensure they sell tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, only to people age 21 and over. It is a potentially lifesaving measure in our state where 34,000 people still die from tobacco related diseases. Every year you can delay a young person from getting addicted to nicotine, you greatly increase the likelihood of that person never starting this deadly addiction.
For a long time the medical field thought the brain was fully developed by the end of adolescence, around age 18 or 19. Now, we know otherwise. The brain continues to develop until people reach their mid-twenties (about 25). Nicotine is a highly addictive neurotoxin that can permanently damage the developing brain. Studies show nicotine exposure affects the part of the brain that is responsible for decision making and impulse control. As a consequence this may result in more risk taking, impaired attention, and is associated with developing mental problems, such as depression and panic disorder. And, sadly, nicotine can actually ‘train’ the brain to crave addictive substances, increasing vulnerability to other addictions as adults.
As part of the new law defining e-cigarettes as tobacco products, all laws that apply to cigarettes now apply to e-cigarettes. The aggressive marketing of e-cigarettes taking place since 2013 and all of the various types of gadgets, devices and over 7,000 flavors are jeopardizing young people’s health. The surge in e-cigarette use by teens and young adults is no accident. These products are fueling addiction to nicotine.
Middle and high school teens in California use e-cigarettes at double and triple the rate of traditional cigarettes. Longitudinal studies show that teens who use e-cigarettes are three times more likely to smoke a year later. And, unfortunately, more than 217,000 California teens currently use e-cigarettes or smoke cigarettes. An Institute of Medicine report released last year estimates that raising the minimum legal age to 21 nationally could result in a 25% decrease in 15 – 17 year olds from starting to smoke. Why? Because youth would have a harder time passing as 21-year-olds, reducing underage sales. The importance of prevention cannot be overstated.