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California Senate Advances Bills Increasing Smoking Age To 21, Regulating Vaping

SACRAMENTO (CBS13) — The state Senate passed several bills Thursday as part of an anti-smoking legislation package, which aims to crack down on tobacco companies and e-cigarettes.

It's being called one of the most sweeping changes the state has had in decades.

The first bill, called Tobacco 21, raises the smoking age from 18 to 21, in an effort to lower the number of premature deaths related to smoking cigarettes.

According to a study by the Institute of Medicine in 2015, increasing the smoking age to 21 would result in 200,000 fewer premature deaths for people born between 2000 and 2019.

Senator Ed Hernandez, the official who authored the bill, says "bottom line, it's going to save lives and prevent addiction."

Justin Chapman, 30, has been smoking cigarettes since he was 13 years old.

"It's hard to quit. It's like a drug, it's like a disease and it's so hard to get over," Chapman says.

He opposes the new legislation, and says raising the smoking age is only going to encourage teens to find another way to buy cigarettes.

"Everyone has that older friend who can get them anything."

E-cigarettes are also under fire from the state Senate, which moved to regulate the product Thursday. They would be regulated as tobacco products, and will fall under California's Smoke-Free Act.

People will no longer be able to vape in certain public areas.

"It's big tobacco's way to addict the new generation by using sweet and fruity flavors to market the products to children," said state Sen. Mark Leno, who wrote the bill.

It's illegal to sell e-cigarettes and vaping products to people under 18, and Leno says with the new bill, sting operations could be used to keep retailers from selling the products to minors.

Barry Smith owns the Electric Cigarette Lounge on K Street in Sacramento.

"It's like taking a mint," he says, to describe using an e-cigarette which contains nicotine-free liquid.

But Senator Leno warns that e-cigarette liquids contain up to 10 chemicals, which the California Department of Public Health recognize to cause cancer.

Smith feels unfairly targeted by the bill, and says it could push him out of business.

"I'm a small-business owner, and I might have to close my store. I have to survive".

Both bills are awaiting a signature by Governor Jerry Brown, and if he signs off on both, e-cigarettes will only be available to people over the age of 21, just like tobacco.

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