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Sacramento • California lawmakers on Thursday revived a stalled effort to make the nation's most populous state one of two to raise the smoking age to 21.
The state Assembly passed a bill raising the smoking age from 18, joining Hawaii and dozens of cities around the country that have already moved to the higher limit. The Senate, which approved an earlier draft of the bill last year, is expected to decide next week whether to send it to Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown.
It comes days after San Francisco officials voted to increase the legal age to buy tobacco products to 21, making it the second-largest city after New York City to do so. Several other California jurisdictions, including the city of Healdsburg and Santa Clara County, have also raised their smoking ages.
Some of those jurisdictions have faced threats of lawsuits from tobacco sellers who say the statewide age of 18 trumps local ordinances that set it higher.
The smoking age hike was one of six measures aiming to restrict access to tobacco approved Thursday. Others would regulate electronic cigarettes like other tobacco products and allow local governments to tax tobacco.
Assembly Democrats said raising the age to buy tobacco will prevent young people from taking up smoking and forming a lifelong habit. Proponents say it would make it much harder for teens to get access to tobacco because 18-year-old high school students would not be able to buy it for their underage friends.
"This will save the medical system in the outgoing years millions of dollars," said Assemblyman Jim Wood, D-Healdsburg. "It will save thousands of lives."
Republicans said the government should not restrict people's freedom to make their own decisions.
"I don't smoke. I don't encourage my children to," said Assemblyman Donald Wagner, R-Irvine. "But they're adults, and it's our job to treat our citizens as adults, not to nanny them."
The age to purchase tobacco would remain 18 for members of the military.
In addition to raising the smoking age and regulating e-cigarettes, the bills would impose new restrictions on workplace smoking and expand tobacco bans to more schools. Counties would be able to raise their own cigarette taxes beyond the state's levy of $0.87 per pack.
The legislation now returns to the Senate, which must approve changes made in the Assembly before the legislation can reach the governor. A spokesman for Brown said the governor generally doesn't comment on pending legislation.