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SACRAMENTO, Calif. — It's official: The legal age to buy tobacco products in California is now 21. The boosted minimum age — increased from 18 — went into effect Thursday.
Under the new law, consumers aged 18 to 20 will no longer be allowed to buy tobacco products in California. Anyone who gives tobacco or tobacco paraphernalia to someone under the age of 21 could be found guilty of a misdemeanor crime.
"Today is really a landmark day for California as new tobacco control laws go into effect," said Karen Smith, director of the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) and state public health officer.
Gov. Jerry Brown signed the measure into law on May 4 as part of a tobacco legislation package. With the stroke of his pen, California became the second state to proof for 21. Hawaii became the first on Jan. 1, as CSNews Online previously reported.
"It may seem the new age limit for tobacco sales is taking effect really quickly. The bills were signed into law just five weeks ago. But from a public health perspective, it's time," Smith said.
Two of the laws in particular will help support CDPH's work to combat addiction and help prevent disease and death caused by tobacco, she explained. "Effective today, the minimum age of sale for tobacco increases from 18 to 21 years. And for the first time under state law, e-cigarettes are added to the existing definition of tobacco products. This is the first time the Golden State has raised the age of sale for tobacco since law first took effect 144 years ago."
According to Smith, the department's immediate priority is reaching out to vape shops and California's 34,000 retailers who have tobacco licenses with information about the new laws and how to comply with them.
"We know retailers are committed to their neighborhoods, customers and communities, to their safety and health, and we are confident they will make every effort to abide by these laws especially when it comes to protecting our state's young people," she said.
For the next few months, the focus will be on education. The CDPH has created a series of educational materials for retailers, including a summary of the new laws, information on ID checking, fact sheets and other resources.
The department will be mailing a packet to known vape shops and licensed tobacco retailers. The packet includes educational materials, two copies of the Tobacco 21 point-of-sale retailer sign, a window cling and an order form for retailers to request additional materials. Retailers should receive the packets later this month.
So, how can retailers comply with the new laws?
"First and most importantly, check ID. Retailers already know how to do this and ID checking is the single most effective way to reduce illegal sales of tobacco products," Smith said.
There is one exception to the 21 age limit, she noted. The minimum age remains 18 for active-duty military personnel who present an ID card issued by the U.S. Armed Forces.
"In many ways, the new age limit will actually be easier to manage and very familiar to retailers. It now matches the age of sale for alcohol, where the minimum age of sale is also 21. And more than 70 percent of tobacco retailers also sell alcohol," Smith explained.
General public outreach will include point-of-sale education over the summer. Convenience stores and gas stations will display educational messages that focus on the new age of sale and information on assistance to help quit smoking, added April Roeseler, chief of California's Tobacco Control Program.