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What do Californians say about boosting the smoking age to 21?

Some question whether the new law will deter youth from smoking. 

Lisi Niesner/Reuters/File
An ashtray with cigarette butts in Hinzenbach, Austria, in 2012.

On Wednesday, California Gov. Jerry Brown signed a law that would raise the smoking age from 18 to 21.

While other states, including New York, have enacted similar legislation, some Californians question how effective the new law will be in deterring youth from smoking, a goal that appears to have widespread support across demographics.

"[Cigarettes] should be illegal. Period," says a vendor at LA Café, a downtown Los Angeles café that sells cigarettes. "If I see a baby face, I want your ID. I think [the new law] is awesome," he said, enthusiastic that it would keep younger people from smoking as much as they do now.

Another vendor at Happy Corner, a convenience store nearby, echoed the sentiment. "I don't want my son to smoke, so 21 is better than 18," he said. He hoped the new age limit would deter kids from disobeying the law.

Another shopkeeper at Village Market in downtown Los Angeles worried that sales would decrease, and said it was a matter of personal responsibility. "Raising the age to 21 is pointless," he said. "For 18, I think they're adult enough to take care of themselves."

Youth nowadays don't even see smoking cigarettes as cool, said Sanjay G., a young bicycle craftsman from Los Angeles who did not want to give his full last name. "Kids would rather smoke weed. So I think it's going to reduce the rates of smoking. We'll probably lose tax revenue, but it will also save lives or health because people might not get as addicted," he said.

Sanjay's friend David, however, a Los Angeles entrepreneur originally from Paris who also declined to give his last name, was less optimistic. "I don't think it will [reduce smoking]," he said. "Kids will find a way, and it will be more sexy and attractive if it's not allowed." 

"A lot of times, you can push a person into smoking by telling them not to smoke," said Robert Smith, a Los Angeles native in his 40s who started smoking at the age of six. Back then, his 17-year-old sister used to leave her cigarettes around the house, and he became addicted as a child. Despite what the smoking age may be, people can peddle cigarettes off the street anyways, he said. "I can walk from here [7th Street] to 4th Street and get up to a pack's worth of cigarettes. But I'm not going to give them to a kid. When kids get cigarettes, they steal them or get them from a friend who's already been introduced."

In the middle of speaking, Smith stopped a person on the street and asked to buy a loose cigarette, which he then traded with a friend for a menthol cigarette. A few minutes later, another pedestrian stopped Smith to buy a cigarette for a quarter. "See, what I just did there," he said. "If I had to wait until I was 21, or even 25 better, I would never have smoked."

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