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As legal age rises to 21 for vapes, e-cigarettes, businesses forced to adjust

California changes age to buy tobacco from 18 to 21

Jimmy Shirley, 25, is an employee at Sabyr Vapor's location in Fresno's Tower District. He explains how he thinks the new laws governing vapes and e-cigs and limiting the age for purchasing tobacco could affect the business.
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Jimmy Shirley, 25, is an employee at Sabyr Vapor's location in Fresno's Tower District. He explains how he thinks the new laws governing vapes and e-cigs and limiting the age for purchasing tobacco could affect the business.

To vape or not to vape? For anyone under 21, the answer just got a whole lot simpler.

Californians must now be at least 21 years old to purchase tobacco products or electronic smoking devices, which was previously legal at 18. (The law doesn’t affect active duty military personnel, whose minimum age remains 18.)

Lawmakers also reclassified e-cigarettes and vapes as tobacco products, regardless of whether they contain tobacco or nicotine.That means electronic smoking is now banned in places where traditional smoking already was prohibited, such as public transportation, restaurants and schools.

“Long term, we expect to save lives,” said Dr. Karen Smith, California Department of Public Health director. “California is taking a big step forward in preventing a new generation of young people from becoming addicted to nicotine.”

$18.1 billionSpent annually on healthcare costs for smoking-related diseases in California

For smokers and business owners alike, the new laws change the culture of tobacco and electronic smoking in California. There are more than 34,000 businesses with tobacco licenses in the state, all of which will have to adapt.

Stores selling tobacco products will check IDs to ensure the buyer is 21 or older or face fines from $200 to $6,000 for repeat offenders.

However, the new classification requires vape shops to become licensed for selling tobacco products, limit selling to those over 21 and follow all smoking restrictions.

Long term, we expect to save lives.

Dr. Karen Smith, California Department of Public Health Director

Adam Wooddy, 24, opened the first Satyr Vapor location in September 2014, and has seen the business grow in Fresno. Although Satyr Vapor sells e-cigs and vaping products, none of which contain tobacco, it is still grouped with tobacco retailers.

He called the new law unjustified.

“The funny thing is easily 95 percent of my clientele are people who turned to vaping to quit smoking,” Wooddy said. Many people use vaping to slowly decrease their nicotine consumption to break the addiction, he explained.

With a portion of clients between the ages of 18 and 21, Wooddy anticipated a manageable loss in sales. A more noticeable difference will be the absence of people in this age range who hang out in the shop.

240,000Number of smoking Californians between 18-20 years old

Daoud Mahmoud, owner of Sahara Hookah Lounge, said between 40 percent and 60 percent of his customers were between 18 and 21. He opened the lounge in January 2012, and moved to a larger space this year to accommodate bigger crowds.

“It was kind of a shock,” Mahmoud said. “It wasn’t believable, to be honest.”

Hookah lounges appeal to those old enough to smoke but too young for bars or clubs, he said. To make up for lost revenue, he plans to charge for seating and host events or giveaways to draw people in.

“I feel like its both a positive and a negative,” he said. “There’s a lot of people who die from tobacco use, but I am also a business owner – what am I supposed to do when my customers aren’t allowed to come here?”

Gov. Jerry Brown signed the Senate bill on May 4, giving business owners five weeks to adjust to the new rules, which went into effect Thursday.

With 3.4 million smokers in California, residents spend $18.1 billion in healthcare costs for smoking-related diseases, according to the state health department. The new laws were designed to align with what doctors know about brain development and the risks associated with smoking.

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