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Are California’s new tobacco and e-cigarette restrictions necessary?

They say e-cigarettes are safer than traditional cigarettes. But, are either cigarettes actually safe?

In hopes of improving public health and safety, the California state Senate recently approved six anti-tobacco bills, which included raising the minimum smoking age from 18 to 21 and restricting the usage of electronic cigarettes in public places.

The new constraints on electronic cigarettes (e-cigs) could not have come at a better time, considering that teenage e-cig usage has tripled in the recent years.

“This is important because the fastest growing segment of the e-cigarette market is middle and high school students,” Senator Mark Leno said. “Together, we stand to disrupt the chain of adolescent addiction.”

While the tobacco industry has protested the legislation, claiming that e-cigs offer a “safer alternative” to tobacco cigarettes, the detrimental health effects are clear.

E-cigs, which contain nicotine and chemical infused cartridges as opposed to the traditional burning tobacco, are completely unregulated. This means that there are no safety checks or requirements for what goes into an e-cigarette. Early studies have found various carcinogens, including an ingredient used in antifreeze.

“The e-cigarette is nothing more than a new delivery system for toxic and addictive chemicals such as nicotine,” Leno said. “Ensuring that e-cigarettes fall under California’s comprehensive smoke-free laws is critical to protecting public health, especially given the alarming rate at which young people are picking up these devices.”

Raise the minimum smoking age would prevent teenagers from picking up the fatal habit of smoking.

“[These laws] will save countless lives, reduce astronomical costs to the health care system, and cost very little because it uses existing enforcement mechanisms,” Senator Ed Hernandez said. “Today was an enormous victory for not only this generation, but also for many generations to come who will not suffer the deadly impacts of tobacco.”

Tobacco use currently remains the leading cause of preventable death in the United States, with 34,000 Californians dying each year.

However, a study by the Institute of Medicine found “that if the minimum legal age to buy tobacco were raised to 21 nationwide, tobacco use would drop by 12 percent by the time today’s teens reached adulthood. In addition, there would be 223,000 fewer premature deaths and 50,000 fewer deaths from lung cancer.

Critics have pointed out that adults between the ages of 18 and 21 who are already trusted with the ability to vote or join the military will now be unable to buy cigarettes, which seems unfair. As a compromise, Democratic senators altered the bill after six months to keep the minimum age to purchase cigarettes at 18 for military personnel.

Fortunately, smoking and e-cigs aren’t big issues here at Northwood.

“There aren’t many disciplinary problems with smoking,” Assistant Principal Saul Gleser said. “It was slightly bigger when they [e-cigs] came out three years ago, but not anymore.”

If Governor Brown signs the bill, it will make California the second state in the nation to raise the smoking age to 21. Whether he approves it or not, the question of raising the legal age for smoking remains a hot topic for discussion.