SACRAMENTO, CA, (Christian Examiner) -- Although research from the University of Michigan reveals cigarette and alcohol use are down among teenage students, some California and Utah anti-smoking advocates aim to see the number of teen smokers plunge with legislation proposing to raise the legal smoking age from 18 to 21.
According to the San Francisco Chronicle, State Senator Ed Hernandez, D-West Covina (Los Angeles County), introduced SB151 in the California legislature last week. Hernandez says he authored the bill to reduce teen addiction by "severely limit(ing) teen access to tobacco products."
"Tobacco companies know that people are more likely to become addicted to smoking if they start at a young age," Hernandez said in a statement. "We can no longer afford to sit on the sidelines while big tobacco markets to our kids and gets another generation of young people hooked on a product that will ultimately kill them."
Supporters of the bill include the California Medical Association, the American Cancer Society and the American Lung Association.
A representative from the California branch of the American Lung Association, Kimberly Amazeen, told the Los Angeles Times 21,000 California teens start smoking every year. Reportedly, 9 in 10 smokers take up the habit by age 18.
"We need to take bold steps forward in our efforts to reduce tobacco use among youth," Amazeen said.
Tobacco industry proponents scoff at the proposed law.
"It's funny that the politicians in Sacramento have nothing better to do with their time than continually attack smokers as a minority," Robert Best a representative of smokers' rights group The Smoker's Club, said.
Last year a similar proposal failed in Utah, where the legal age to buy tobacco has already been raised once to age 19. However, lawmakers determined to see the age raised to 21 are starting the bill called HB130 this year in the House, according to The Desert News.
The Utah bill also addresses e-cigarettes, a growing alternative to smoking.
According to a study published in the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, e-cigarettes were projected to sell $11.7 billion in the United States last year. The study also concluded that e-cigarettes are a lure to adolescents who otherwise would not risk using tobacco products and may serve as a gateway drug.
HB130's sponsor Rep. Kraig Powell, R-Heber City, said the legislation is based on research that most adult smokers start before age 21.
"If we can delay that onset, we're probably going to see huge health benefits and financial benefits," Powell said. "I think it's a really simple, clear, impactful change."
The Desert News reported the Utah Senate defeated the legislation last year due to concerns over the loss of tobacco tax revenue and the effects of criminalizing smoking at that age among other reasons.
Similar measures have failed in New Jersey, Colorado and Maryland.