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Berkeley, Calif. Wants To Make Getting E-Cigarettes As Difficult As Buying Booze

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Guy Bentley Research Associate, Reason Foundation

Berkeley, California’s city council is laying the groundwork for the city’s latest public health crusade with a crackdown on e-cigarettes.

On Tuesday, City Councilman Jesse Arreguin proposed raising the age for buying e-cigarettes along with regular cigarettes to 21, putting both products on a par with alcohol. Arreguin is concerned about the rapid rise of e-cigarette use among young people, which he fears may act as a gateway to tobacco.

The current age for legal purchase of tobacco products in California is 18. If the city council passes the measure it would join just three governing bodies in the country that have decided to raise the age for tobacco purchases to 21 — Healdsburg, New York City and Hawaii.

Arreguin’s proposal comes hot on the heels of a report claiming there is no link between soaring e-cigarette use and young people taking up smoking. “Electronic cigarettes are not linked with any rise in young people smoking. Although more young people are trying electronic cigarettes and many more young people are aware of them, this has not led to widespread regular use or an increase in smoking,” said Hazel Cheeseman, Director of Policy at Action on Smoking and Health.

E-cigarettes do not contain tobacco and have almost none of the dangerous carcinogenic components that are in cigarette smoke. A recent report from Public Health England found e-cigarettes were 95 percent safer than tobacco.

Berkeley is rapidly building a reputation as one of the most restrictive cities in the country for lifestyle freedom. Berkeley has already banned the use of e-cigarettes in public places and introduced a soda tax which, at best, has spectacularly failed to meet expectations. (RELATED: Berkeley’s Soda Tax Fail: Consumers Paying Less Than Half What Was Expected)

In May, the City Council considered a proposal to ban the sale of tobacco and e-cigarettes within 1,000 feet of schools and parks before putting it to the city manager for review.

Arreguin said, “Berkeley has been a leader in fighting smoking and increasing the age for buying cigarettes would be another step.” His proposal will be considered at the city council’s September 15 meeting.

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