The strongest and wildest approach yet to deter teen tobacco use at the state level is taking shape. A new California bill would ban all tobacco sales for any resident born on Jan. 1, 2007 or later.
Under Assembly Bill 935, current smokers would be able to continue buying tobacco products, but anyone younger than 16 years old today would not be able to buy tobacco—ever.
It would essentially phase out tobacco use in California for an entire new generation.
Instead of punishing tobacco consumers, the bill would target retailers instead. It would do this by including a series of financial penalties and license suspensions for retailers who break the proposed law. Specifically, the bill would add Article 6 to Chapter 1 of Part 3 of Division 103 of the Health and Safety Code, relating to tobacco sales.
The ban, however, would not apply to cannabis sales. Lawmakers reasoned that the compulsive nature of nicotine compels youth to become addicted.
The bill was co-authored by Assemblymembers Damon Connolly, (D-San Rafael) and Evan Low (D-Silicon Valley). “This is not about taking away current rights of anyone; it’s about not creating a new generation of people addicted to nicotine,” Connolly said.
California has taken steps already to limit tobacco use among teens as much as possible. In 2020, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a law banning the sale of most flavored tobacco products.
“This is a logical next step of that,” Connolly said. “The goal here is to lead, to actually change the conversation beyond our state’s borders and really try to move the needle forward in the direction that favors public health.”
Public health officials applauded the bill, saying that the tobacco industry in general exploits the health of American youth. Through the years, limits on tobacco advertisements unfolded incrementally.
“The solution is a sustainable one, we should not punish our young people for the harms of an industry built on the exploitation of people,” said Oussama Mokeddem, the director of State Policy for Public Health Advocates.
The bill is highly likely to be challenged by Big Tobacco. The tobacco industry has fought hard against legislation of this kind in the past.
CBS News reports that if the ban were to become law, the tobacco industry could sue to block the bill from being implemented. Alternatively, the tobacco industry could also challenge the ban in a ballot proposal, asking voters to stop the bill from taking effect. But Proposition 31 was overwhelmingly approved by voters and prohibits the sale of most flavored tobacco products, including menthol cigarettes.
The U.S. Supreme Court also refused to block California’s flavored tobacco law.
AB 935 is tailored to mirror a similar law in New Zealand: Last year, the country implemented a law that bans the sale of tobacco products to anyone born after Jan. 1, 2009.
This has even happened already in the U.S. at the city level: Brookline, Massachusetts, passed a local law banning the sale of tobacco products within city limits to anyone born after Jan. 1, 2000. The law has withstood the courts and remains in effect.
California’s ban on flavored tobacco took effect on Dec. 21, 2022, banning retailers across the state from selling vaping and smoking products with flavors. A ballot challenge was launched by the tobacco industry after state lawmakers and the governor first approved the ban in 2020, but voters chose to keep the law in effect.