Last week, nine state senators filed a bipartisan bill to raise the age one can legally purchase and consume tobacco products in Texas to 21. Senate Bill 21 includes smoking products such as cigarettes, e-cigarettes and juuls.
SB 21’s primary author, state Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston, is joined by Democratc state Sen. Kirk Watson, whose district includes UT-Austin, among others. A companion bill, House Bill 479, was filed in the Texas House of Representatives by state Rep. John Zerwas, R-Richmond.
Under the bill, the sale of tobacco products would be regulated similarly to alcohol. It would require Texans provide identification at the point of purchase to prove they’re over 21. Alexandra Loukas, the principal investigator for UT’s Tobacco Research and Evaluation Team, said she approves of the policy.
“I think it’s a good idea because we know that policies impact behaviors, including tobacco and nicotine use,” said Loukas, a health education professor. “Increasing the smoking age to 21 might decrease smoking rates, particularly among young adults. This is really important because young adults, 18 to 24-year-olds, are now starting to initiate use of tobacco nicotine products at a higher rate than are adolescents.”
Loukas said preventing young people from taking up smoking would have long-term benefits for society at large.
“If we could curtail the use of these products at that age, that would be very beneficial at the individual level but also at the population level in terms of saving money, saving years lost in productivity, all that kind of stuff,” Loukas said.
In a press release, Zerwas said he believes increasing the age of tobacco consumption would have far-reaching benefits.
“As a physician, the health-related importance of this proposed legislation can’t be denied,” Zerwas said. “As chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, I’d also like to point out that (the bill) isn’t just responsible public health policy, but it’s also fiscally responsible for the State of Texas.”
Claudia Rodas, director of the Southern Region for the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, said policies like SB 21 help combat millions of dollars spent by the tobacco industry to attract young customers.
“The tobacco industry has spent such a significant amount of money marketing to our youth and young adults,” Rodas said. “In Texas alone, we know that they spend about $645 million, if not more, dollars targeting our young and youth adults. These type of policies are meant to counter those marketing tactics that we know that are used within the tobacco industry.”
As for SB 21’s effectiveness, Shelley Karn, the project director for the Tobacco Research and Evaluation Team, said people familiar with the issue expect it to be successful in decreasing the number of young people who consume tobacco products.
“We know that 90 percent of people start smoking before the age of 24,” Karn said. “I think that everyone behind the bill can vouch for the idea that it would be expected to help. We won’t know until it happens whether or not it will help, but we can assume that it will based on the evidence of when people start using tobacco.”
If SB 21 is passed, Texas will become the eighth state to raise the legal smoking age to 21.