AP NEWS

Texas poised to raise smoking age to 21

May 14, 2019

AUSTIN — Texas is poised to become the latest state to boost the smoking age from 18 to 21, months after a top federal health official called youth e-cigarette use an epidemic.

The House approved Senate Bill 21 on Tuesday to raise the purchasing age for all tobacco products, including cigarettes and e-cigarettes, though those in the armed forces would be exempt.

The bill is likely next headed back to the Senate for approval on the House’s five amendments. The bill would then need approval from Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, who has voiced support for raising the legal age for smoking.

Already 13 other states have adopted so-called Tobacco 21 legislation, amid a nationwide surge in teen vaping that U.S. Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb labeled an epidemic last September.

In Texas, nearly one in three high-schoolers and more than one in 10 middle-schoolers have tried an electronic cigarette, according to state surveys. The biggest users, however, were young adults between the ages of 18 and 29, according to the 2019 report by the Texas Department of State Health Services.

The bill, cheered by public health advocates and lawmakers as a way to help curb teen smoking, has even garnered support from major tobacco companies.

Opponents however, contend that people under the age of 21 should be able to decide for themselves whether they want to smoke.

“If these adults at the age of 18, when we flip a switch, if they can be adult enough to vote for us to come here and represent them, I think we should be able to allow them to smoke,” said Rep. Tony Tinderholt, R-Arlington, whose amendment to make the bill read “voting age” rather than 21 was dismissed.

An amendment by Rep. Justin Holland, R-Rockwall, to exempt cigars from the bill was also cast aside by the House.

The effort to boost the smoking age from 18 to 21 was led by San Antonio, which became the first Texas city to make the change in January 2018. Since then, Kirby and Leon Valley have followed suit. An amendment was added to the bill by Rep. Briscoe Cain, R-Deer Park, that preempts cities from passing ordinances that further raise the age.

The bill by Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston, cleared the Texas Senate last month after it was amended to exclude active-duty military personnel. It means Texans who are over 18 years old and serving in the armed forces would still be allowed to purchase tobacco products with a valid military ID.

More than two-thirds of Texas voters support raising the tobacco purchasing age to 21, Huffman said when the bill was before the Texas Senate. She pointed to a statewide poll conducted by Texas 21.

“I am encouraged by this poll that 2019 will be the year we pass a Tobacco 21 law,” Huffman said in a press release.

At least one major tobacco company is supporting the legislation. Altria, which owns tobacco giant Phillip Morris as well as the makers of Copenhagen and Skoal snuff, said in a March statement that it has “advocated for strong minimum age laws in all U.S. jurisdictions.”

The bill is also supported by leading e-cigarette maker Juul Labs, which is partially owned by Altria.

“We cannot fulfill our mission to provide the world’s one billion adult smokers with a true alternative to combustible cigarettes, the No. 1 cause of preventable death in this country, if youth-use continues unabated,” said Ted Kwong, a Juul spokesman, in an April statement.

This is a developing story; check back for updates.

Lauren Caruba contributed reporting from San Antonio; Sami Sparber contributed reporting in Austin.