It might not matter — all the teens are vaping pot now anyway — but a bipartisan group of Texas legislators is pushing a plan to raise the state's tobacco purchasing age from 18 to 21, making anyone who wants to look cool while slowly killing themselves wait three more years to do so. If the proposal becomes law, Texas will be the eighth state overall, and the first with unified Republican government, to raise the tobacco buying age.
Eliminating legal smoking for 18- to 20-year-olds will save lives and the state cash, in the form of cheaper healthcare costs, a group of doctors and legislators said Tuesday at a rollout for House Bill 749 and Senate Bill 21, the chambers' twin efforts to stop the 95 percent of smokers who start before turning 21.
“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. Judging from the butts in the Observer's parking garage, that number, however biased its source, might be a little low.
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Kellen Kruk, a senior at Pineywoods Community Academy in Lufkin, said Tuesday that, without a change in Texas law, he could easily resort to being a tobacco pusher.
“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.”
Richmond Republican John Zerwas filed the House version of the teen smoking ban with bipartisan backing from the likes of Oak Cliff's Rafael Anchia. It's slated for its first hearing with the House's Public Health Committee on Wednesday.