Proposed bill aims to raise purchasing age of tobacco and tobacco-related products

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Photo Credit: Caleb Kuntz | Daily Texan Staff

Approximately 28,000 adults die annually in Texas because of smoking-related illnesses, according to the website Texas Tobacco Law. This number is higher than the amount of people killed by alcohol, murder, AIDS, cocaine, heroin, car accidents and fire combined. 

Rep. John Zerwas, R-Richmond, Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston and Sen. Carlos Uresti, D-San Antonio hope to decrease the number of tobacco-related deaths with House Bill 1908, which would increase the purchasing age of tobacco from 18 to 21. 

“It’s a piece of legislation that really could have a dramatic impact on the overall health in the state of Texas,” Zerwas, who co-authored the bill said. “Tobacco continues to be the number one cause of mortality and morbidity in the state.”

Zerwas said the bill, which was filed last month, was essentially designed for youth between the ages of 15 and 17, who have easy access to tobacco from their 18-year-old friends who are able to purchase tobacco. According to the CDC, 17.4 percent of students in grades 9 to 12 smoked cigarettes in 2011. 

“(With this bill) we perhaps would save some of our youth from a life that bears the consequences of tobacco use,” Zerwas said. 

Huffman was unavailable for a comment. 

The bill targets all tobacco products, including e-cigarettes. If passed, Texas would be the third state to raise the smoking age, along with Hawaii and California. 

“The proposed legislation is important because it promises to reduce tobacco uptake in youth and young adults, and tobacco remains as the single most preventable cause of cancer and death in our population,” said Ernest Hawk, vice president and head of UT MD Anderson Cancer Center’s Division of Cancer Prevention and Population Sciences, who took a neutral stance at the committee hearing. 

However, the bill has not gotten support from everyone. 

At the Public Health Committee hearing Tuesday, testimony was heard from those who believed they should have the right to purchase tobacco at the age of 18 because they are allowed to do other things as citizens, such as voting, running for public office or enlisting in the military. 

Civil engineering freshman Aktham Dabbas, who smokes cigarettes, said tobacco does not pose as much of a danger as alcohol and should not be so heavily regulated. 

“I just think it should be an individual’s choice whether they want to smoke or not,” Dabbas said. “I don’t think tobacco entails the same thing alcohol does.” 

Zerwas said the age restriction would benefit many people, just as the age limit on alcohol did not have a negative impact on people. However, Dabbas said the age limit to purchase alcohol does not stop people younger than 21 from drinking alcohol and this bill would only push younger people to want to use tobacco more because it’s prohibited. 

“When something is so prohibited, or forbidden, people just want to do it more,” Dabbas said. “That’s not to say that they’re necessarily going to obtain it more, but when they do get their hands on it they’re not going to know how to handle it maturely and safely.”

The bill was not voted on and left pending until further notice.