SB151 by Sen. Ed Hernandez (D-San Gabriel Valley) passed the Senate on June 2 by a 29-9 vote. In its present form it would establish civil penalties ranging from $400 to $600 for a first violation for anyone selling, giving or furnishing tobacco to anyone under 21 years of age.
Penalties for a fifth violation within five years would rise from $5,000 to $6,000 and sellers who violate the law could have their sales license suspended or revoked by the Board of Equalization and be fined $250.
If SB151 wins Assembly approval it would make California only the second state to increase the legal age for smoking and selling tobacco to 21. The Hawaii legislature passed similar legislation earlier this year. The measure is awaiting action by the Governor.
A second bill, SB149, which would define e-cigarettes as tobacco, also cleared the Senate on June 2, by a vote of 25-12.
California once led the nation in snuffing out smoking, but health activists say a strong tobacco lobby and a lack of political will have blocked new efforts in recent years.
State lawmakers have responded to such criticism with a flood of legislation on the issue.
In addition to increasing the smoking age, the measure would bar electronic cigarettes from public places where smoking is prohibited, ban single-use filters on cigarettes and prohibit the use of chewing tobacco in pro baseball stadiums and recreational league games.
The state has simultaneously launched a $7-million advertising campaign warning about the health hazards of e-cigarettes.