Remember when Governor Gavin Newsom (D-CA) broadcast an ad to Floridians, promising more freedom in the Golden State? As California continues it’s plan to phase out smoking, it seems that message of freedom doesn’t apply equally to everyone. Assembly Bill 935 is just the most recent legislation in a decades-long battle to eradicate tobacco use in the Golden State. In the ‘90s, indoor smoking was banned. In 2016, the legal age to purchase went from 18 to 21. Last year, flavored cigarettes and vapes got the boot. This newest bill, authored by Democrat Assemblyman Damon Connolly, would make it illegal to sell tobacco products to anyone born in 2007 or later, with hefty fines set in place for any retailers that disobey.
“Preventing the next generation of Californians from becoming addicted to smoking should be a priority for anyone who cares about the public health of our state and the well-being of our children,” the lawmaker explained. He added, “this bill will not affect anyone currently of legal age and able to purchase tobacco products and will not punish individuals for simply using or possessing these items.”
Although Connolly promises, “[t]his is not about taking away current rights of anyone; it’s about not creating a new generation of people addicted to nicotine,” the bill only forbids the sale of tobacco products, not the use of them. As Richard Groome, a tobacco use researcher, told the California Globe:
“Even if this is passed, and it’s a longshot, it will be very hard to control. People can still buy out of state, so it might gain this mystique, plus older people can still buy. It might become way more niche as a result, but it also won’t fully go away. Just the easiest option to buy would.”
Businesses argue the bans being imposed in the state are hurting their sales. James Blake, who works at Cigarette City in Chico, told ABC 7 KRCR news, “Just like every shop, we’ve taken a hit,” after flavored tobacco was banned. “I’ve got 75-year-old people that are mad at us and it’s not our fault, but they have had the right to choose for 50 years and now they can’t, and they are not happy people.” Another employee suggested prevention should be the parent’s responsibility and that a ban won’t stop kids from being exposed.
Just how legal is this legislation? Liberty Nation Legal Affairs Editor Scott D. Cosenza, Esq. weighed in on the matter:
“Can a state tell a 32-year-old they may not do something a 33-year-old is permitted to? States may certainly treat juveniles differently than adults. The age of adulthood for certain activities may vary, like 18 to own a firearm in some places and 21 to consume alcohol. But dividing adults by a moving line separating them by birth year seems to be a novel approach to lawmaking. If passed, I suspect the measure will be quickly challenged with an equal protection claim based on the 14th Amendment.”
Consenza went on to explain how challenges to this legislation could meet with different degrees of success, depending on who the challengers are:
“Adults who wish to purchase something other adults may purchase would be most likely to challenge this successfully. Individual rights to be to treated like other adults is something the Supreme Court has long said is protected by the Due Process clause. However, states’ strict tobacco regulation has been treated as well within state government purview. Therefore, I would expect this measure to withstand scrutiny from a challenge by retailers.”
Imagine how different things will be in the years to come. A 50-year-old and a 70-year-old stand in line at a convenience store, both smokers, but only the elder can purchase his desired product. The 50-year-old is a mature, responsible adult. Still, if he wants a pack of cigarettes, he will have to hide out around the corner of the building and wait for the older customer to bring him a pack – like an underage teenager.
Fast forward even further into the future, and California will become a tobacco-free state once all of those currently of legal age die off. Smokers planning to visit the Golden State won’t have a place to light up and relax. And what about business and job opportunities? How many shops and companies will be forced to shut their doors as these bans continue?
Connolly told the Sacramento Bee: “The impetus for the bill is really that we’ve known for 50 years that tobacco and nicotine products cause cancer and are incredibly addictive and decrease the quality of life.” The same can be said about alcohol; when you add in the number of drunk driving accidents, the dangers and risks increase. Will local governments also decide people should not be allowed to drink alcoholic beverages? Are bans on unhealthy ingredients – such as sugar – in foods likely to follow? Just how many decisions that further reduce Americans’ freedom to choose will lawmakers make while claiming it’s all in the best interests of their constituents?
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