Some Westwood smoke shop owners and UCLA students disagreed on the effectiveness of a new law that will increase the smoking age in California to 21 on June 9.
Gov. Jerry Brown signed several bills May 4 that will also classify electronic cigarettes as tobacco products in addition to banning smoking in all public and charter schools receiving tobacco prevention funding. Licensing fees for the distribution and sales of tobacco products will increase on Jan. 1, 2017.
A package of six bills was introduced to Gov. Brown in a special session on health care last week. Brown vetoed one bill, which would have allowed cities and counties to impose additional taxes on tobacco products.
California State Sen. Ed Hernandez, D-West Covina, who authored the bill raising the legal smoking age, said in a press release he thinks the bill will significantly reduce costs to the health care system.
The Institute of Medicine released a report in March 2015 that concluded a nationwide minimum smoking age of 21 could prevent almost a quarter-million premature smoking-related deaths and 50,000 fewer deaths from lung cancer.
UCLA was the first University of California school to ban use of tobacco products on campus. The policy went into effect April 2013.
Mischa Hakobian, a sales associate at Smoke Spot, said a third of the store’s customers are between the ages of 18 and 20. He added he thinks the new smoking age increase coupled with the increased regulation of electronic cigarettes, will put a significant dent in their profits.
“We will have to wait three years to get their business again,” he said. “That’s a huge gap to lose a third of our customers.”
Hakobian said he thinks 18-year-olds should be allowed to decide whether to smoke because they are legally considered adults.
“If you can join the army and you can vote, you should be able to decide if you want to smoke a cigarette,” he said.
Matt Jenkins, manager of Voodoo Smoke Shop, said he does not expect his business to suffer because of the new law.
“No matter the age, people who want to smoke will find a way to purchase tobacco,” Jenkins said. “If they really wanted to prevent kids from smoking, they should just ban tobacco outright.”
Jenkins said he thinks health and economic problems may arise from regulating electronic cigarettes the same way as tobacco products.
He added he thinks small electronic cigarette producers will have to pay more in licensing fees, similar to the amount big tobacco companies pay. The fees could burden many electronic cigarette companies, forcing them to shut down, he said.
Jenkins said he thinks some customers use tobacco-free electronic cigarettes to get their nicotine fix while trying to wean themselves off cigarettes.
He added the increase in licensing fees could shut down small electronic cigarette producers, so the electronic alternative will be less readily available and more people may revert to using traditional cigarettes.
Some students said they think raising the smoking age could have positive public health benefits.
Edwin Do, a first-year computer science and engineering student, said he thinks increasing the smoking age will prevent people from becoming addicted at an early age.
James O’Connor, a first-year psychobiology student, said he thinks older adults are better prepared to decide whether to take on the risks of smoking.
Connor, 19, added he plans to continue to smoke despite the new law, but thinks the increased smoking age will prevent young people who may be drawn to smoking because they want to fit in with their peers.