The Texas Senate voted on Tuesday to stop the sale of cigarettes, e-cigarettes and other tobacco products to Texans younger than 21.
There is, however, one exception: Military service members would still be able to purchase these same products at 18 years old.
Senate Bill 21, which is authored by State Affairs Committee Chair Senator Joan Huffman, bans the sale of tobacco products to Texans younger than 21 years old. According to the bill, it also increases the age limit for proof of identification from 27 to 30.
The bill has received widespread bipartisan support in the 31-member Texas Senate, with nine authors and six co-authors attached to the bill. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick also has made raising the tobacco age one of his priorities this legislative session.
“Senate Bill 21 will save lives and is an investment in Texas' future,” Patrick said in a statement. “Increasing the age to purchase tobacco products in Texas to 21 will not only improve public health and save countless lives - it will save Texans billions of dollars in health care costs."
About 95 percent of smokers start smoking before the age of 21, according to a Texas 21 Coalition media release. In Texas, 7.4 percent of high school students smoke and over 10 percent use e-cigarettes, while 10,400 kids become daily smokers every year.
Additionally, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report released in February found a 78 percent increase in high school students using e-cigarettes in one year, raising the number of middle and high school tobacco users to almost five million.
If these trends continue, nearly half a million Texas children are expected to die prematurely from smoking within their lifetimes.
A Daily Light Facebook poll with 499 participants showed that 75 percent of respondents favored increasing the age limit for tobacco purchases, while 25 percent oppose an age limit. Ennis resident David Shubert is one such resident who opposes the measure but is in favor of the military exemption that has been added to the bill.
“If 18 is old enough to go into the service and die for your country, you should at least be able to smoke when you’re doing it,” Shubert remarked in a previous Daily Light report.
However, there are several others who oppose the military exemption. According to a Texas 21 coalition media release, 36-40 percent of smokers in the military reported that they started using tobacco after joining the military. More than $1.6 billion is reportedly spent each year by the U.S. Department of Defense as well on tobacco-related medical care, including increased hospitalizations and lost days of work.
“Military leaders themselves recognize the toll tobacco takes on troop readiness and on the military health care system and are actively taking steps to reduce tobacco use in the military,” said Claudia Rodas, southern region director, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. “Texas 21 will be working with legislators to help them understand the importance of including the military in tobacco 21 legislation. Our goal is a tobacco 21 law that protects all young Texans - including those who are willing to die to protect our country.”
Charlie Gagen, American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network Texas grassroots director, iterated similar disappointment, stating that the bill doesn’t do enough to protect Texans.
“This law gives Texas an important tool to keep tobacco out of the hands of our youth and prevent them from a lifetime of addiction, and our jobs are not over,” Gagen expressed. “The military exemption fails to protect the service members who put their lives on the line for our freedoms, and we must do more to keep them healthy.”
To date, 13 states have voted to raise their tobacco sale ages to 21, along with at least 450 cities and counties across the country — including San Antonio, Leon Valley and Kirby in Texas. Legislation passed by Arkansas, California, Maryland, Utah and Virginia also includes military exemptions in their bills.
The bill moves to the House Committee, where it must be approved before being fully considered by the House of Representatives. If approved, the law would go into effect Sept. 1 of this year.