Buying Tobacco or E-Cigarettes in California? You Need to be 21

 (John Moore/Getty Images)

Effective today, the legal age to buy tobacco products-- including e-cigarettes -- in California is now 21 years old.

For 144 years the legal age to buy tobacco in California was 18. But a package of anti-tobacco bills moved through the legislature and  Gov. Jerry Brown signed five of them last month.

The intent of the higher age is to get tobacco products out of the hands of teenagers. Many 18-year-olds are in high school and can share their lawfully-purchased cigarettes with those too young to buy.

Moving the tobacco age to 21 moves legal purchasers out of the orbit of teens. An Institute of Medicine analysis last year concluded that raising the tobacco age to 21 nationwide would result in a 12 percent drop in the number of teen and young adult smokers.

An estimated 240,000 18- to 20-year-olds use tobacco products.

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In a press conference Thursday morning, the California Department of Public Health announced an education program targeted at vape shops and tobacco retailers.

"Our goal is to help retailers comply with these important new laws governing the sale of tobacco products," said Dr. Karen Smith, director of the health department.

Smith also pointed out that 70 percent of tobacco retailers also sell alcohol, and now the age of sale for tobacco matches that of alcohol products.

The food and drug branch of the health department oversees enforcement of tobacco control. The Stop Tobacco Access to Kids Enforcement Act, commonly known as the Stake Act, has netted a significant drop in illegal sales of tobacco to minors.

Smith said that in 1995 one in three California stores illegally sold tobacco products to minors under age 18. "In 2015, it was just one in 13 stores violating the law," Smith said.

Active members of the United States military are exempt from the new law and can still purchase tobacco at 18 with military-issued ID.

Also effective today -- e-cigarettes are subject to the same smoke-free laws traditional cigarettes are. So, wherever cigarettes can't be smoked, e-cigarettes can't be used either. This includes hookah products as well.

The only indoor places where smoking is allowed are "tobacco-only retailers." These are businesses that sell only tobacco. Use of tobacco products would not be permitted, for example, in a business that sells tobacco along with food and drinks.

Smith said that success in the implementation of the new laws would mean fewer people under age 21 are smoking.

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"We really do want to save lives," she said.

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