Twenty-year-old Californians will have to join the military if they want to legally smoke a cigarette.
For tobacco users, the one silver lining from the law raising the minimum smoking age to 21 was an exemption for service members. The legislation, passed by Democrats a year ago, went into effect Thursday.
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The law bans the sale of cigarettes, chewing tobacco, and vaping products to Californians less than 21 years old, but does not apply to medical marijuana. The state allows minors to smoke medical marijuana.
Rep. Duncan Hunter, a longtime advocate for the right to smoke both traditional and e-cigarettes who represents the state, said he opposes the law.
"I’m against it, but it’s California," said Hunter, who once vaped during a congressional hearing. "Smoking is bad—and we don’t want to promote smoking or vaping among youth. It’s a state’s prerogative to make that call."
"The one smart thing they did at least was to exclude the military," he said. Hunter served three combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan and is still a Marine reservist.
Sen. Ed Hernandez, a Democrat and leading sponsor of the legislation, said the law is aimed at protecting children, or individuals up to 20 years old.
"California is sending a strong message that we will not tolerate Big Tobacco’s deceptive marketing of this lethal product aimed at addicting our kids," he said. "This law will save countless lives and reduce costs in our health care system. This is a victory not only for Californians today, but for generations to come who will not have to experience first-hand the deadly impacts of tobacco."
Hernandez, who chairs the state’s Senate Health Committee, said California represents a "united front against Big Tobacco."
The law classified electronic cigarettes as a "tobacco product," similar to the Food and Drug Administration’s recent deeming rule that will hit the vaping industry with regulations that will cost companies millions and force others out of business.
Hernandez praised California for becoming the first state to make it illegal for 18, 19, and 20-year-olds to smoke, and said 17 other states are attempting to do the same.