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Bill to Raise Smoking Age in Texas From 18 to 21 Gets First Hearing

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A push to raise the minimum age in Texas for purchasing tobacco and e-cigarettes has recently seen momentum. Representative John Zerwas filed House Bill 749, proposing to make it illegal for cigarettes, e-cigarettes, or other tobacco products to be sold to people under the age of 21. The proposed bill to raise the legal age from 18 to 21 has received strong support from Dan Patrick, the state’s Lieutenant Governor, and, surprisingly, its also been backed by Altria, one of America’s largest tobacco corporations.

Jennifer Hunter, an Altria Client Services Executive, recently gave a written statement to the House Committee on Public Health. Hunter said that her company, “supports raising the minimum age to purchase tobacco products to twenty-one,” encouraging the Texas Legislature to raise the age “without delay.” The same company opposed the proposed increase of age in the 2017 session. Altria, which has partnered with Philip Morris, is involved in the making and marketing of the Marlboro brand of cigarettes and has been working with its partner to sell e-cigarettes as “reduced risk” product.

Bill to Raise Smoking Age From 18 to 21 in Texas Gets First Hearing

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Hunter’s statement further acknowledged, “We are supporting this step because we believe it is the most effective step available to reverse rising underage e-vapor rate. Data shows that youth under eighteen get tobacco products — including e-vapor — primarily through ‘social access.'” Hunter clarified that social access means they receive it from friends or siblings who are 18 or older. In addition, she noted, “By raising the minimum age to twenty-one, no high school student should be able to purchase tobacco products legally.”

If the proposed law becomes enacted, Texas would be among less than 10 states which have done so. States which have raised the legal age to 21 are Virginia, Massachusetts, California, Hawaii, New Jersey, Maine, and Oregon. Illinois is also entertaining the concept, according to a press release by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.

Bill to Raise Smoking Age From 18 to 21 in Texas Gets First Hearing

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In the Lone Star State, such initiatives have been proposed since 2007, however, they haven’t made it to committee. House Bill 749, at the time of this writing, was still pending in committee. The argument to raise the age has been seen as deterring tobacco use in an effort to save lives versus the potential for lost taxation revenue. Projections have argued, though, that any loss in tax revenues could be softened by projected savings in health care. John Carlo is a Dallas physician testifying on behalf of the legislation as a representative of medical advocacy groups. Carlo has said that by raising the age of sale to 21, it’s believed there will be great reductions in the number of those taking up smoking. He cited a 2015 national study which predicted a reduction of 5 percent in youth under 15 who were trying tobacco products at a legal buying age of 19. He also noted that should the age be bumped to 21, that possible decrease, per the study, grows to 15 percent.