California Medical Association mulls hiking smoking age to 21

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LOS ANGELES -- Members of the California Medical Association want the state to raise the smoking age from 18 to 21 -- the highest in the nation.

The association, which represents 35,000 doctors, is expected to vote on the proposal by Tuesday during its annual session, which draws 400-plus delegates to Anaheim.

If passed, the resolution would direct the association's lobbyists to support legislation that would raise the legal age for buying, possessing or receiving tobacco products. No such legislation is pending.

Such a bill would also make it illegal to sell cigarettes to those younger than 21.

"This is hopefully a proposal that might discourage and make it more difficult to purchase tobacco products, especially among older teen-agers and college-age kids," said Dr. Leonard Klay, a Santa Rosa obstetrician and gynecologist who plans to introduce the proposal on Saturday.

All 50 states set a minimum age of at least 18 to buy tobacco products following a 1992 directive from Congress. In three other states, Alabama, Alaska and Utah, the legal age is 19.

Passage of the resolution is not assured: Klay said physicians within the district he represents, which stretches from Marin County to the Oregon state line, split nearly 50-50 on the issue before forwarding it to the association for debate and a vote.

The American Lung Association, which estimates 90 percent of all smokers pick up the habit before the age of 21, favors enforcing current laws rather than raising the age limit.

That sentiment was echoed by at least one tobacco company.

"What's far more important, and certainly we can agree, is kids should not be smoking and we very actively support enforcement of existing laws to keep tobacco out of the hands of minors," said Tom Ryan, a spokesman for Philip Morris USA.


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