Smoking age may raise from 18 to 21 in California

Helena Kim

A series of anti-tobacco bills, including one to raise the legal smoking age in California from 18 to 21, awaits Gov. Jerry Brown’s signature.

A Fullerton College student takes a cigarette break. Photo credit: Helena Kim


Both the Assembly and state Senate approved raising the minimum age. If Brown authorizes the bill, California will be the second state, after Hawaii, to make the bill official.

The bill would also push the age limit on electronic cigarettes, more commonly known as vapes, equating them to regular cigarettes. Along with restricting purchase and use of any tobacco-related products until age 21, lawmakers voted to prohibit e-cigarettes in public areas where regular cigarettes are already banned, such as restaurants, theaters and bars.

Additionally, other anti-tobacco measures included extending smoke-free areas and increasing tobacco taxes, which currently run at 87 cents per pack.

According to, the National Survey on Drug Use and Health said that over 80 percent of adult smokers smoked their first cigarette before turning 18, and close to 95 percent started before 21.

The CDC also reported that each day in the United States, more than 3,800 youth aged 18 or younger smoked their first cigarette. In addition, 2,100 youth and young adults evolve into daily smokers.

Accordingly, anti-tobacco advocates have pushed to establish the bill after many stalled efforts. Due to the tobacco industry targeting adolescents and young adults, advocates argued that raising the age will lower the number of adolescent smokers, health risks, deaths, and healthcare costs, according to

Critics, on the other hand, panned the bill, noting that 18-year-olds are considered adults and free to make their own choices, regardless of the consequences.

Fullerton College students had mixed views.

While only five out of 50 students chosen identified as smokers, opinions ranged from regarding the bill as useless and unnecessary to a good start for healthier lives, regardless if they smoked or not.

21-year-old Tim Day, a former smoker who recently stopped due to health concerns, said, “Cigarettes are bad, but if you’re old enough to serve your country, you should be able to smoke.”

FC student Aly Richey, a 19-year-old non-smoker, echoed his thoughts and said that she thought the bill wasn’t going to be very effective.

“At 18, you are allowed to go to strip clubs and even go off to war. Personally, I ask myself ‘why’? It is entirely up to the individuals whether they’re 18 or 21 and shouldn’t be government regulated,” Richey said.

Plant biology major Cassandra Guzman thought differently. She attributed “chemical dependency” as a major problem at such a young age.

“Before age 25, addiction is far more likely since your brain isn’t fully developed,” Guzman said.

18-year-old Jesus Zaragoza said although the bill didn’t affect him personally since he didn’t smoke, it was a good idea and may lower the number of smokers and health risks involved.

Smoking age
18-year-olds may be at a serious disadvantage, as they may be banned from buying and using cigarettes until 21. Photo credit: Helena Kim


Pure health educators Breanna Fierro, Sabrina Evans and Chandler Scharr, who represent FC health services, thought differently on the bill itself. However, they all agreed that students should not practice smoking in general, including vaping.

“I don’t think [the bill] is going to stop people from smoking…Although it may get harder for them to get the cigarettes, it’s not going to stop anyone,” Evans said, noting that students can easily steal a cigarette from their mothers’ purses.

Scharr said the bill may shed light on the detrimental health issues that smoking causes, especially since the brains of young adults are still growing.

“I don’t smoke cigarettes personally, but I know people my age who do, and I can already tell that they have bad health issues from smoking, like their teeth,” Scharr said.

In terms of vaping as an alternative to smoking cigarettes, Fierro said, “I feel that vaping has gotten a bad reputation now, but the science behind it says that it may benefit former smokers…Vaping is not as harmful as regular cigarettes, but to an extent.”

In contrast, Evans said, “My perspective on smoking in general is that you shouldn’t put anything in your lungs that shouldn’t be there. Simple as that.”

Whether Brown approves the bill or not, the notion of raising the legal age is still in the heat of discussion.