New Texas bill aims to raise smoking age to 21

AUSTIN (KXAN) — The Texas Medical Association claims that 90 percent of smokers began when they were 19 or younger. That’s a key factor driving them to support a new bill in the Texas Legislature that would raise the smoking age from 18 to 21.

Historically, the Texas legislature doesn’t like to tell Texans what they can buy or sell. But lawmakers will debate whether to make the sale and use of cigarettes and e-cigarettes the same as alcohol, 21.

“In Texas, it kills more than AIDS, crack, heroine, cocaine, alcohol, car accidents, fire, murder and suicide combined, and it’s entirely preventable,” said  Austin Dr. Phil Huang says those health concerns take a toll on the state budget.

A new House Interim Report on Public Health highlighted chronic disease caused by smoking as a major driver of taxpayer funded healthcare costs. It vastly outweighs the amount Texas takes in taxes on cigarettes.

Two powerful Houston lawmakers are now taking the issue on; chair of the Senate Committee over most state-issues Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston, and the top House budget writer Rep. John Zerwas, R-Richmond,  are authors of the bill.

“I don’t think there is any mystery as to what the consequences of long term tobacco use is and the addictive potential of some of these products. I think what it really comes down to is a sense of, are we going to protect our youth to the extent we can,” Rep. Zerwas told KXAN by the phone.

Opponents of the bill doubt whether the law would actually stop young adults from smoking. But the bill is filed, waiting to be referred to a committee.

Sunday afternoon, KXAN reached out for a comment to the two large tobacco product manufacturers and their lobbying arms, Altria and RJ Reynolds, waiting to hear back.

Raising the tobacco age to 21 in Texas would make us one of the restrictive states in the country. Two states, California and Hawaii, have raised the age to 21. Both only passed the age increase last year.

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