Bill to raise smoking age to 21 in Texas gets its first hearing
Texas would stomp out smoking for anyone under 21 if lawmakers approve a bill favored by Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who runs the state Senate.
Patrick announced his top 30 legislative priorities on March 8, focusing on a mix of hallmark conservative issues, taxpayer protections and legislation aimed at “protecting Texas’ future,” such as Senate Bill 21, which would raise the smoking age from 18 to 21.
In a news release, Patrick described the bills as not only his priorities but “also priorities of the majority of the Texas Senate and the conservative majority of Texas.”
Senate Bill 21, filed by state Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston, would raise the purchasing age for all tobacco products, including cigarettes and e-cigarettes. State Rep. John Zerwas, R-Richmond, filed identical legislation — House Bill 749 — in the lower chamber.
If the legislation passes, Texas will become the eighth state to adopt so-called Tobacco 21 legislation. In Jan. 2018, San Antonio became the first and only city in Texas to raise its smoking age from 18 to 21.
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Proponents say the measure will save lives and dollars, but critics argue the policy is a textbook example of government overreach. This session, with Patrick’s backing and statewide support — and backing from some Democratic Senators — Huffman said the legislation stands a solid chance.
More than two-thirds of Texas voters support raising the tobacco purchasing age to 21, Huffman said, pointing to a statewide poll conducted by Texas 21, a coalition of organizations backing the effort.
“I am encouraged by this poll that 2019 will be the year we pass a Tobacco 21 law,” Huffman said in a press release. “I urge all Texans who agree to take a stand for our children and contact their senator and representative to ask them to support House Bill 749 and Senate Bill 21.”
The Senate Committee on State Affairs, chaired by Huffman, conducted its first hearing on the bill Monday.
At least one major tobacco company is supporting the legislation. Altria, which owns tobacco giant Phillip Morris as well as the makers of Copenhagen and Skoal snuff, said in a written statement that it has “advocated for strong minimum age laws in all U.S. jurisdictions.”
The bill is also supported by e-cigarette maker Juul, which is part-owned by Altria.
“Tobacco 21 laws have been shown to dramatically reduce youth smoking rates, which is why we strongly support raising the minimum purchase age for all tobacco products, including vaping products like Juul, to 21 in Texas,” said Ted Kwong, a Juul spokesman.
Juul already requires purchasers to be 21 or over for sales via its website, Kwong said.
Opponents of the bill included a small business owner and several parents. One man said if 18 is old enough to join the Armed Forces, then it should be old enough to smoke. Others said pushing the age limit up to 21 would not stop younger people from obtaining tobacco.
Staff writer Taylor Goldenstein contributed to this report.