California lawmakers advance 6 smoking regulation bills, including letting locals raise taxes

Democratic lawmakers advanced a package of tobacco regulation bills on Thursday, reviving proposals that earlier stalled in the Legislature amid opposition from tobacco companies.

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They include measures to raise the age for buying tobacco products to 21 and to regulate e-cigarettes as tobacco products.

Local governments could impose their own tobacco taxes on top of the state's tax, while the state would increase fees on tobacco vendors to cover its regulatory costs. The six bills also expand on tobacco bans in schools and the workplace.

The measures approved by the Senate do not include a pending proposal to raise California's cigarette tax by $2 per pack from the current 87 cents.

The bills face an uncertain future in the Assembly, where a committee shelved previous Senate legislation.

They passed largely along partisan lines, although Republican Sen. Jeff Stone of Temecula and Democratic Sens. Cathleen Galgiani of Stockton and Richard Roth of Riverside broke with their colleagues on some of the measures.

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"They are going after kids, and that's where I have to draw the line," Stone said in supporting an e-cigarette regulation measure that earlier stalled but was revived in a special health care session by Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco. Stone objected that vaping tobacco products now come in candy flavors that he said are designed to encourage "a new generation of nicotine addiction."

Sen. Joel Anderson, R-Alpine, spoke against two of the measures, including one by Sen. Mike McGuire, D-Healdsburg, that would let local governments impose their own tobacco taxes.

"If we want to ban cigarettes, let's just ban them," Anderson said. "This slow approach makes no sense to me."

Letting local governments raise tobacco taxes would likely discourage smoking and cut into the state's tobacco revenues, he argued: "I think we have to be very careful that we don't kill the golden goose."

Democrats said repeatedly that their goal is indeed to discourage tobacco use, an outcome they said would spare lives and save billions of dollars in health care costs.