The California Assembly voted Thursday to raise the smoking age to 21, regulate electronic cigarettes and take a variety of other steps aiming to restrict access to tobacco.
California would become one of the first states to raise the smoking age from 18, joining dozens of cities around the country that have already moved to the higher limit. It comes days after San Francisco officials increased the legal age to buy tobacco products in the city to 21.
Ending months of stalling on legislation approved last year in the Senate, Assembly Democrats said the measure will prevent young people from taking up smoking. Proponents say it would make it much harder for teens to get access to tobacco because 18-year-old high school students would not be able to buy it for their underage friends.
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"This will save the medical system in the outgoing years millions of dollars," said Assemblyman Jim Wood, D-Healdsburg. "It will save thousands of lives."
Republicans said the government should not restrict people's freedom to make their own decisions.
"I don't smoke. I don't encourage my children to," said Assemblyman Donald Wagner, R-Irvine. "But they're adults, and it's our job to treat our citizens as adults, not to nanny them."
The age to purchase tobacco would remain 18 for members of the military.
The bills also would require that e-cigarettes be regulated like tobacco products, impose new restrictions on workplace smoking and expand tobacco bans to more schools. Counties would be able to raise their own cigarette taxes beyond the state's levy of $0.87 per pack.
The bills now return to the Senate, which must approve changes made in the Assembly before the legislation can reach Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown.
Lawmakers approved the tobacco legislation in a special session called last year by Brown to restructure taxes on health plans.