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No Drinking, Smoking, or Vaping Under 21 in California if New Law Signed

The vaping industry argues it ought to be treated differently than other tobacco products.

If California's governor signs a new slate of bills into law, teens in the state could soon legally smoke medicinal weed, but not vape. The bills, which are designed to curb teen smoking and include raising the legal smoking age to 21, have lumped in the use of vaping devices, to the chagrin of the industry.

"It's a bridge too far," said Gregory Conley, the president of the American Vaping Association, a nonprofit advocacy group. "This is California. The idea that you can go and shoot 300 porn films before you're 21 but you can't have a vape afterwards, I don't think that's right."


The slate of bills would fold e-cigarettes under the Stop Tobacco Access to Kids Enforcement Act (which prohibits the sale of tobacco products to minors), raise the legal smoking age to 21 (and include e-cigarettes), prohibit vaping anywhere that smoking is prohibited, and allow local municipal governments to tax tobacco products (including e-cigarettes) as long as they put it to a vote. Conley said while these rules may make sense for traditional tobacco products, the AVA believes vaping needs to be treated differently.

That's because the current scientific literature shows vaping is much less harmful than smoking—as much as 95 percent less harmful, according to England's public health agency—and vaping can be an effective smoking cessation tool. In fact, a large number of vapers use e-cigarettes to either cut back on smoking or quit flat out, and the number of US adults who currently vape but have never smoked is less than 1 percent, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Studies have also shown that banning e-cigarettes for minors can cause teen smoking rates to increase slightly.

"It's very, very easy for teens, including 18-20 year olds, to get cigarettes," Conley told me. "But to get high quality vapor products is more difficult because there are fewer avenues to get them."

The new laws are also worded very broadly. E-cigarettes would fall under new definitions of tobacco products that include "an electronic device that delivers nicotine or other vaporized liquids," meaning even vape juices without any nicotine would be treated like cigarettes. And bumping the age to 21 means employees at vape shops and manufacturers under that age would need to find new work. One vape shop owner told told OC Weekly that about a third of his employees are under 21, as are a third of his customers.

The state senate passed the final version of the bills late last week and they are now awaiting the approval of Governor Jerry Brown.

Lawmakers are concerned about teens and young adults taking up vaping not as a way to quit smoking, but as a hobby. Despite being less harmful than cigarettes, even vaping industry insiders admit it's far from a harmless habit. So if high schoolers who would never consider smoking are happy to pick up a vape pen, that's a problem, and a report by California's department of public health show 20 percent of teen vapers in the state had never smoked a cigarette.

Senator Mark Leno, a major proponent of the e-cigarette bans, said that this trend really stoked the push for legislation.

"No tobacco product should be exempt from California's smoke-free laws simply because it's sold in a modern or trendy disguise," Leno said in a press release. "Addiction is what's really being sold. Like traditional cigarettes, e-cigarettes deliver nicotine in a cloud of other toxic chemicals, and their use should be restricted equally under state law in order to protect public health."