Quick Takes: Newly Proposed Legislation in California

In light of the latest legislative proposals by California lawmakers in the state assembly and senate, the opinion section weighs in on a couple of the bills that are most likely to affect UCSD students.

SB 151 and SB 140 Are Well-Intentioned, But Will Backfire on Lawmakers

As the war wages on against tobacco products and their negative health consequences, California is attempting to pass two new state senate bills regarding cigarette/e-cigarette consumption. One of the bills, SB 140, bans the use of e-cigarettes in public areas. The other, SB 151 makes it illegal to sell cigarettes to anyone below age 21. Although stopping the perpetuation of cigarette use among young people is important, these bills may do more harm than good.

First, let’s consider SB 151. What might be the result of raising the age for buying cigarettes from 18 to 21?

There is no need to look any further than the legal drinking age in the U.S. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, alcohol is the most commonly abused drug among youth in the U.S., more than tobacco or illicit drugs, and is responsible for more than 4,300 annual deaths among this demographic.

“Although drinking by persons under the age of 21 is illegal,” notes the CDC, “people aged 12 to 20 years drink 11 percent of all alcohol consumed in the United States.” Now, that’s not to say that increasing the age for buying cigarettes will inevitably lead to a massive increase in tobacco use. However, it is wishful thinking to believe that young people won’t still have access to these dangerous products. Policies that target age groups in particular can also contribute to teens picking up smoking as an act of rebellion — the more illicit, the more appealing. Thus, this policy also has the potential to create a larger underground cigarette market. Outright prohibition as a strategy to prevent substance abuse proved a failure in the 1920s and again from the ‘70s onward in the War On Drugs. During that time, a trillion dollars were spent to overcrowd U.S. prisons with small-time drug offenders. The aim to reduce drug use is noble, but the tactics are ultimately ineffective.

SB 140, the ban on public e-cigarette use, is perhaps another example of a misdirected remedy to an obvious problem. Although there is an ongoing debate concerning the potential dangers of e-cigarette vapor, there is very little comprehensive scientific evidence in support of either side. There is evidence, however, of the effectiveness of e-cigarettes as tools for reducing traditional cigarette use. A large University College London survey of smokers in England indicated that individuals attempting to quit smoking are about 60 percent more likely to report succeeding if they use e-cigarettes than if they use over-the-counter nicotine replacement therapies such as patches, gum or willpower alone. Regulation and prohibitory laws will likely stagnate the e-cig industry and create an adversarial relationship between the industry and government, rather than encourage a focus on health and transparency, as well as further research.

While SB 140 and SB 151 aim to confront important issues, they use flawed strategies that have unfortunately become familiar in the U.S.’s historic drug policies.

—  HAILEY SANDEN Senior Staff Writer

SB 178 Brings Legal Protection of Privacy Up To Modern Standards

Among the hundreds of bills that are proposed to the California Senate, SB 178, the California Electronic Communications Privacy Act, will prove to be a promising step forward in terms of our privacy. This bill would require law enforcement and other government entities to issue a search warrant in order to obtain information from an electronic device. The fact that user confidentiality has not been protected until now is unsettling. This long-overdue legislation will certainly protect individuals from the government’s historic infringement on our privacy.

A January 2014 CNN news article reported that several people in California who were tried in court were additionally convicted of unrelated crimes after law enforcement officers found evidence on their personal electronic devices linking them to drug and gang-related activity. CalECPA would prevent this from happening because a search warrant would have to be issued and law enforcement would have to specify the range of dates that they need to look through. Simply looking for evidence does not and should not give law enforcement the freedom to arbitrarily look for a problem not relevant to the one at hand.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California notes that the transparency that this bill evokes is important when it comes to our personal property. This will ensure that the authorities need to have reasonable cause and are abiding by the law. With major companies, such as Google and Facebook supporting this bill, hopefully Gov. Jerry Brown will see the importance of protecting our privacy and sign this bill into law. This is the 21st century and it’s about time California laws reflects the digital age we live in.

—  ROSINA GARCIA Copy Editor