Barring an upset, Texas looks poised to become the 14th state to raise its smoking age, after the Texas House passed an amended version of a Senate bill raising the state's tobacco-use age on Tuesday.
Under the bill, the purchasing age for all tobacco products in the state would be raised to 21, except for members of the military.
At a press conference rolling out the proposed age change in March, a group of doctors and legislators said eliminating legal smoking for 18- to 20-year-olds will save lives and save the state cash, in the form of cheaper healthcare costs.
“I am astounded that it’s been well over five decades since the first surgeon general’s report in 1964 on smoking and health since we’ve first known of tobacco’s carcinogenic effects,” said Dr. John Carlo, chairman of the Texas Public Health Coalition and member of the Texas Medical Association’s Council on Legislation. “It’s been almost 40 years since the tobacco industry was quoted calling ‘today’s teenagers’ ‘tomorrow’s potential regular customer’ and yet, here we are, still having this fight. Tobacco use continues to be the No. 1 cause of preventable chronic diseases and premature death in Texas.”
According to numbers from the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, Texas suffers an annual cost of about $8.22 billion in lost productivity from smoking.
Kellen Kruk, a senior at Pineywoods Community Academy in Lufkin, told members of the media at the press conference that, without a change in Texas law, he could easily resort to being a tobacco pusher.
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“As an 18-year-old, I could go buy tobacco or e-cigarettes legally and share them with my peers,” said Kruk, the founder and president of his school’s “Say What!” anti-tobacco initiative. “I see students at my school who are already addicted to nicotine. They think it’s cool to use e-cigarettes. Tobacco 21 needs to be implemented in Texas so that it takes tobacco out of the hands of high schoolers. We should be graduating with a diploma, not a lifelong addiction to tobacco.”
It appears that Kruk won't have to worry.
The Texas Senate has already passed a bill substantially similar to the one passed by the House on Tuesday — the House bill includes a few tweaks, including a provision that bars cities from raising the tobacco-purchasing age any higher than 21, but no major changes — and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has already signaled support for raising the legal age.