California lawmakers voted Thursday to raise the legal age for purchasing and using tobacco and e-cigarettes from 18 to 21, putting the nation's most populous state on the brink of becoming only the second after Hawaii to bar teenagers from lighting up, dipping, or vaping, the AP reports. Before it can become law, Gov. Jerry Brown must sign the legislation. "We can prevent countless California youth from becoming addicted to this deadly drug, save billions of dollars in direct health care costs, and, most importantly, save lives," said Democratic Sen. Ed Hernandez, who wrote the bill. Dozens of cities, including New York and San Francisco, have passed similar laws of their own.
The higher age limit, part of a package of anti-tobacco bills, won approval despite intense lobbying from tobacco interests and fierce opposition from many Republicans, who said the state should butt out of people's personal health decisions, even if they are harmful. Advocates noted that the vast majority of smokers start before they are 18, according to data from the US surgeon general. Making it illegal for 18-year-old high school students to buy tobacco for their underage friends will make it more difficult for teens to get the products, they said. Opponents said American law and custom has long accepted that people can make adult decisions on their 18th birthday and live with the consequences, including joining the military. In response, Democrats changed the bill to allow members of the military to continue buying cigarettes at 18. (Read more smoking stories.)