Lacey Peterson
The Union Democrat

New laws include:

• SB 5 — Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, classifies e-cigarettes as tobacco products, making them subject to smoke-free laws, age restrictions and other rules governing tobacco products.

• AB 6 — Assemblyman Mark Stone, D-Santa Cruz, closes loopholes in the state’s smoke-free workplace laws.

• SB 7 — Sen. Ed Hernandez, D-West Covina, raises the legal age to buy tobacco products from 18 to 21.

• AB 9 — Assemblymen Tony Thurmond, D-Richmond, and Adrin Nazarian, D-Sherman Oaks, requires all schools to be tobacco free.

• AB 11— Assemblyman Nazarian establishes a tobacco licensing fee program under the state Board of Equalization

Starting next Thursday, young smokers will have to consider quitting as stores will no longer sell tobacco products to people under 21 unless they’re active duty military.

Several Senate bills passed and going into effect on June 9 will affect smokers and tobacco/smoking product vendors.

Senate bills 5 and 7 will make it so people 18 to 20 (unless active duty military) can’t buy tobacco or e-cigarettes.

According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, some 90 percent of tobacco users start before 21, and about 80 percent first try tobacco before they’re 18.

These new laws are “very much a victory for the health of the public,” said Dr. Liza Ortiz, Tuolumne County Public Health Officer.

Tuolumne County has a smoking rate of 26 percent of all adults (not including other tobacco product use like chewing tobacco). That was discovered in a 2012 study conducted by the Tuolumne County Public Health Department. The agency plans to conduct another such survey this year.

The statewide adult smoking rate in 2015 was 11.9 percent.

The Tuolumne County Superintendent of Schools Office got a grant to conduct a California Healthy Kids Survey to seventh- and ninth-graders at all county schools this past school year, Ortiz said. It’s results haven’t been released yet, but it will give officials and the public an idea of what local youth smoking habits are.

There have been surveys conducted in previous years, but not at all schools and not every year.

In 2013-14, three local elementary schools conducted the survey. Summerville High did it in 2010-11, and it showed 22 percent of 11th-graders and 12 percent of ninth-graders had smoked a whole cigarette four or more times.

There’s a lot of concern about youth using nicotine products and other addictive substances because the brain isn’t fully developed, making it more likely they can become addicted, Ortiz said.

Youth are also more apt to be influenced by what their friends are doing, and many get their tobacco products from friends who are 18. By moving up the age, it makes it harder to get the tobacco products into their hands, Ortiz said.

“Changing the social norm is a really effective way of changing the behaviors they do. We need to change the social norm in the community,” Ortiz said.

Similarly, the reclassification of e-cigarettes as tobacco products will also make it harder for youth to get those as well.

“They are not totally harmless,” Ortiz said of e-cigarette and “vape” products.

Some people are able to use them successfully to reduce or quit smoking, but others aren’t, she said.

The new laws also prevent targeted youth marketing for these products.

A 2015 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that the use of e-cigarettes by high school students tripled from 2013 to 2014.

Vaping devices — used to heat liquid mixed with nicotine and other chemicals to generate an inhalable vapor — have become the most popular delivery system for tobacco products used by high school and middle school students, the study said.

There are resources at Tuolumne and Calaveras county’s public health departments for people who want to quit smoking or using tobacco products.

“The smoking rate in Tuolumne County is one of the most major health problems we have as a county. We have the No. 1 economic burden of chronic disease, and that is largely due to our very high smoking rates and tobacco use. Anything thing we can do to reduce our smoking rate will improve the health of this county,” Ortiz said.

The California Department of Public Health’s 2015 Economic Burden of Chronic Disease estimated the health care costs for the six most common chronic conditions: arthritis, asthma, cardiovascular disease (stroke, hypertension, coronary heart disease, and congestive heart failure), diabetes, cancer and depression.

Approximately $98 billion was spent on treating those conditions in 2010 and represents 42 percent of all health care expenditures in the state. In terms of total county health care expenditures for those six conditions in 2010, Tuolumne County had the highest percentage in the state with 63 percent. Kings County had the lowest with 32 percent. Calaveras County’s expenditures on those six conditions accounted for 60 percent of its total healthcare expenditures in 2010.

Smoking is a known contributor to cardiovascular disease and cancer. In 2010, Tuolumne County’s expenditures on cardiovascular disease totaled $85.7 million and $38 million for cancer. In Calaveras County, cardiovascular disease cost $70.5 million and cancer cost $23.9 million.

A 2015 Institute of Medicine study estimated that increasing the tobacco purchase age to 21 will result in 200,000 fewer premature deaths for those born between 2000 and 2019.

The new laws enacted also raise the licensing fee for tobacco retailers from a one-time $100 charge per location to $265 annually, and will increase the annual fee for distributors and wholesalers from $1,000 to $1,200 to better cover the state’s enforcement costs.

Under the new laws, e-cigarettes will be banned in all the same places that traditional cigarettes are — workplaces, schools, restaurants, hospitals and more.

Local cigarette stores say they plan to comply with the new laws and managers say they “card” people who look under 30 anyway.

“We have to be careful, we have to card everybody,” said Sheila Bart, manager at the Sonora Cigarette Store. She said she wasn’t sure how it would affect business. “We’ll see,” Bart said.

Sonora Smoke Shop in The Junction has been letting its customers know it will be complying with the new law, said Leanne Wehbeh, whose husband is one of the owners.

“Of course there’s going to be a loss of business, but I don’t know what percentage of our business comes from that age group,” she said.

In terms of youths getting caught with cigarettes, it’s not often they are cited, said Sonora Police Chief Mark Stinson.

Last year no citations were written.

It’s a very “low level infraction,” he said. “We normally handle it as a lecture type situation.”

The officer takes the cigarettes and lighters from the youth and contacts their parents.

In the event they are cited for being a minor in possession of tobacco, it’s handled through probation, which forwards the youth on to traffic court. However, under the new law, 18- to 20-year-olds wouldn’t be handled by probation at all, said Linda Downey, juvenile probation manager in Tuolumne County.