California bill would eventually ban all tobacco sales

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Adam Beam | AP Breifs

Some California lawmakers want to eventually ban all tobacco sales in the nation’s most populous state, filing legislation to make it illegal to sell cigarettes and other products to anyone born after Jan. 1, 2007.

If signed into law, it would mean by 2073 people wanting to buy cigarettes would have to show ID to prove they are at least 67 years old. “We can ensure that the next generation of children in California do not become addicted to smoking,” said Assemblymember Damon Connolly, a Democrat from San Rafael and the author of the bill.

The proposal is likely to face strong opposition from the tobacco industry, which would fight to maintain access to its largest U.S. market. If the ban were to become law, the industry could sue to block it. It could also challenge the ban at the ballot box, asking voters to stop it from taking effect. “(The ban) will impact a lot of jobs and it will have a repercussion throughout the economy of California,” said Charles Janigian, president of the California Association of Retail Tobacconists.

Connolly and others are confident the ban would survive if they can get it passed the Legislature. It’s modeled after a similar law New Zealand enacted last year that bans the sale of tobacco products to anyone born after Jan. 1, 2009. In the U.S., the city of Brookline, Massachusetts, passed a local law banning the sale of tobacco products within its borders to anyone born after Jan. 1, 2000 — a law that so far the courts have allowed to remain in effect.

In 2020, California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a law banning the sale of most flavored tobacco products in the state. The tobacco industry asked voters to block the law, but in November voters allowed it to take effect. “This is a logical next step of that,” Connolly said. “The goal here is to lead, to actually change the conversation beyond our state’s borders and really try to move the needle forward in the direction that favors public health.”

The bill would not penalize people for using or possessing tobacco products. Instead, it would fine retailers for selling to them. Connolly said he’s open to amendments that might create an exemption for religious and cultural uses. But he said the ban would not impact marijuana, which is legal to smoke recreationally in California. “Tobacco products and marijuana are not an apples to apples comparison,” he said.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says smoking marijuana includes many of the same toxins and cancer-causing chemicals found in tobacco smoke. The agency says more research is needed, but said limited evidence has shown a connection between chronic marijuana smoking and testicular cancer. The ban could also eliminate income for the state, as California collected more than $1.5 billion in tobacco taxes in 2021, according to the California Department of Tax and Fee Regulation. “At the end of the day, the state is the net loser,” Janigian said.

Connolly said the ban would save taxpayers money, citing the “tremendous impacts of nicotine and tobacco on our public health system.” “Preventing the next generation of Californians from becoming addicted to smoking should be a priority for anyone who cares about the public health of our state and the well-being of our children,” Connolly said.

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