Some California lawmakers ultimately want to ban all tobacco sales in the country’s most populous state, introducing legislation to make it illegal to sell cigarettes and other products to anyone born after January 1, 2007.
If signed into law, it would mean that by 2073 people wanting to buy cigarettes will have to show ID to prove they are at least 67 years old.
“We can make sure the next generation of kids in California don’t become addicted to smoking,” said Councilman Damon Connolly, a San Rafael Democrat and the bill’s author.
The proposal is likely to meet strong opposition from the tobacco industry, which would fight to maintain access to its largest US market. If the ban became law, the industry could sue to block it. It could also challenge the ban at the polls, asking voters to prevent it from taking effect.
“(The ban) will affect a lot of jobs and it will impact the entire California economy,” said Charles Janigian, president of the California Assn. of Retail Tobacco Shops.
Connolly and others are confident the ban will survive if they can get it past the legislature. It is modeled on a similar law New Zealand passed last year that bans the sale of tobacco products to anyone born after January 1, 2009. In the US, the city of Brookline, Massachusetts has passed a local law banning the sale of tobacco products. within its limits for anyone born after January 1, 2000 – a law that has so far been allowed by the courts to remain in effect.
In 2020, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed into 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,” said Connolly. “The goal here is to lead, to actually change the conversation beyond the borders of our state and really try to move the needle forward in a direction that promotes 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 is open to amendments that could create an exemption for religious and cultural practices. But he said the ban would not affect marijuana, which is legal to smoke recreationally in California.
“Tobacco products and marijuana are not an apples to apples comparison,” he said.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says smoking marijuana contains many of the same toxins and cancer-causing chemicals found in tobacco smoke. The agency says more research is needed, but limited evidence has shown a link between chronic marijuana smoking and testicular cancer.
The ban could also take away revenue 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.
“Ultimately, the state is the net loser,” Janigian said.
Connolly said the ban would save taxpayers money, citing the “massive impact 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 everyone who cares about the public health of our state and the well-being of our children,” Connolly said.