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Texas the 16th State to Raise Legal Smoking Age to 21

A new Texas law is raising the bar for buying tobacco products, increasing the minimum age from 18 to 21.

Senate Bill (SB) 21, which was officially signed into law by Gov. Greg Abbott on June 7, 2019, took effect on September 1st. This new law:

  • Prohibits the sale of tobacco products to anyone under 21
  • Provides an exemption for military members
  • Makes the fines for underage smokers $100 (lowering it by $150).

With this new law, Texas officially becomes the 16th state to raise the legal smoking age to 21. Other states with similar smoking age laws include Arkansas, Utah, California, Oregon, Washington, and Massachusetts.

New Texas Smoking Age Law Receives Strong Support Across the Board

Several organizations—from the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids to the End Tobacco Program at the University of Texas—pushed Texas lawmakers to raise the minimum age for tobacco purchase and use.

To support their stance, many cited a groundbreaking Surgeon General’s report on tobacco use, as well as data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which revealed that:

  • At least 3 million high school students and more than 600,000 middle school children smoke cigarettes.
  • In a given 30-day period, at least 1 in 4 high school students and roughly 1 in 14 middle school students use a tobacco product.
  • Since 2017, tobacco use among high school students has increased by more than 38%, and e-cigarettes are the main reason why this has happened.
  • About 90% of smokers took up the habit before turning 18.
  • Only about 1% of smokers started after the age of 25.

While activists and health experts were among the most vocal supporters of this new Texas law, they weren’t the only ones to back it.

Interestingly, e-cigarette maker JUUL was a backer. In fact, the company has stated that:

JUUL Labs supports Tobacco 21 legislation wherever it is active, which is currently Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Kentucky, Maryland, Minnesota, New York, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and West Virginia … We urge lawmakers in states without these age protections to follow their example, and when and if they do, we will proudly support their efforts.

Enforcement of New Texas Smoking Age Law Raises Concerns

While the new Texas smoking age law has garnered widespread support, some worry that the law falls short when it comes to enforcement funding. Specifically, the concern is that the $9.5 million designated by Texas lawmakers to reduce tobacco use is only allocated for education and prevention efforts, not enforcement activities.

It remains to be seen whether enforcement will prove to be problematic. Nevertheless, many feel that the new Texas smoking law is an essential move in the right direction.

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