For the first time in two decades, California has changed its statewide smoking laws. Some workplaces that were exempt from the previous smoke-free workplace laws are no longer exempt. The new smoking laws also raised the minimum smoking age from 18 to 21 and equate e-cigarettes and vaporizers with traditional tobacco products. The laws in question are SBX2-5, SBX2-7, ABX2-7, ABX2-9, and ABX2-11.

The new law covers all employers, even owner-operated businesses with no employees, as long as those businesses allow clients or other non-employees access to their workplace. Now the only possible exception based on size would be an owner-operated, single-employee business with no outside access whatsoever. Employers can still allow smoking in a few specific workplaces, such as tobacco shops that have private smoking lounges and in the cabs of large trucks when there aren’t any non-smoking employees present.

Copyright: scyther5 / 123RF Stock Photo
Copyright: scyther5 / 123RF Stock Photo

Previously, the smoke-free workplace laws had a few major exceptions. First, it did not cover employers with five or fewer employees. Second, employers could permit employees to smoke in the company breakroom. Finally, the previous law also did not cover a number of other workplaces, such as hotel lobbies and banquet rooms, bars and taverns, and warehouses. The new law eliminates these broader exceptions and covers all employers and many more workplaces, with only the few narrow exceptions discussed above.

The new law also treats e-cigarettes and vaporizers almost identically to traditional tobacco products. The law now includes these devices in the definition of “tobacco products,” and using these devices is now defined as “smoking.” This means that it is now a crime to sell e-cigarettes to individuals under 21 and a crime to smoke e-cigarettes and vaporizers in any place where smoking other tobacco products is restricted.

Some California employers already comply with local smoke-free workplace laws that were stricter than the prior statewide law.  This new law replaces many local laws and standardizes these tighter smoking restrictions across the state.


The new smoke-free workplace laws apply to all employers regardless of size. So if you used to allow smoking in the workplace because you had fewer than five employees, that policy likely has to change. Also remember that e-cigarettes and vaporizers will be treated in the same way as traditional cigarettes, so employees should not be allowed to use these devices where smoking is otherwise prohibited.

This is the blogging debut for Summer Associate Nick Keats, who’ll be starting his final year at UC Hastings in the Fall. Thanks Nick!