San Francisco Smoking Laws Just Got More Strict, Tobacco Purchasers Must Be 21

You now have to be at least 21-years-old if you are buying cigarettes in San Francisco. City supervisors approved a local law on Tuesday to raise the legal age limit to purchase tobacco products.

San Francisco joins other cities, like New York City and Boston, that already have similar ordinances on the books. The new minimum age limitation not only includes tobacco products, but also e-cigarettes.

Supervisor Scott Wiener, the lead architect of the legislation, believes increasing the age will deter young adults from picking up a smoking habit. He said raising the age would not only potentially save lives, but also reduce healthcare costs.

“Our city has a history of taking on major industries in the name of public health, in the name of consumers, and winning,” Wiener said.

Wiener has good reason to trust in the idea. An Institute of Medicine report from 2015 indicated that 90 percent of habitual smokers started before turning 19-years-old.

The American Academy of Pediatrics agrees with San Francisco. In a 2015 document, they announced their support for increasing the smoking age to 21, since many young smokers start by getting cigarettes from other slightly older children.

As reported by Fox News, opponents of the San Francisco measure say municipalities do not have the authority to supersede state law. Current California regulations set the minimum age at 18 and includes a provision banning city and county governments from mandating a higher age requirement.

Last year, California legislature proposed a bill to change the minimum smoking age from 18 to 21, but the measure failed to gain any traction.

Healdsburg, a small city in Sonoma County, California, previously had a 21 and over ordinance, but quickly abandoned it after a national tobacco retailer group threatened a lawsuit. Meanwhile, Santa Clara County has decided to continue enforcing its higher age requirement regulation.

Thomas Briant, representing the National Association of Tobacco Outlets, can’t understand why an 18-year-old can serve in the military and has voting rights, but can’t run down to the store to buy cigarettes. He has urged that San Francisco suspend the ordinance until the state attorney general has enough time to issue a legal opinion.

However, Attorney General Kamala Harris has no plans to render any legal opinion according to a spokeswoman.

It is unclear how San Francisco’s smoking law will affect medicinal marijuana. California residents 18 and over can get medical cannabis from a licensed doctor, buy and possess half a pound of marijuana, and even grow the plant for personal use.

By raising the minimum smoking age, San Francisco hopes to reduce the number of young habitual tobacco users.
Some anti-smoking advocates believe raising the minimum smoking age will reduce the number of young people becoming life-long smokers. [Photo by Scott Barbour/Getty Images]

As much as $170 billion is spent every year on tobacco-related health care costs in the United States. A study released by the University of California at San Francisco revealed the city spent in excess of $380 million in costs related to tobacco use including health care, lost productivity, and premature births.

Hawaii raised its smoking age to 21 statewide last year, the first state to do so. The anti-smoking advocacy group Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids estimated that 1,400 Hawaiians die from tobacco use, and $526 million is spent on medical costs, every year. The state hopes the new age restriction will help bring those numbers down.

A study published in 2015 suggested that raising the minimum age to buy tobacco products even higher than 21 would decrease overall smoking rates by 12 percent. The number of young adults who start smoking would also decrease by 25 percent, according to the report.

Recent polls reveal that the majority of Americans think raising the legal age is a good idea. The American Heart Association applauded San Francisco’s approval of the ordinance.

San Francisco’s legal department calls the city’s move legally sound. Unless the state of California decides to step in, the smoking age law is scheduled to take effect on June 1.

[Photo by Scott Barbour/Getty Images]