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Texas Lawmakers Urged To Raise Smoking Age To 21 To 'Save The Lives Of Children'

Gabriel C. Pérez
Republican Sen. Joan Huffman of Houston listens during a State Affairs Committee hearing during the last legislative session in 2017.

State senators are considering a bill that would raise the minimum age to buy tobacco products in Texas from 18 to 21. 

At a State Affairs Committee hearing Monday, Houston Republican Joan Huffman urged her colleagues to keep an open mind and take into account the potential health benefits for Texas kids. 

"You know, it’s hard to think sometimes that you can pass – that we can pass – legislation that can save lives," said Huffman, who wrote Senate Bill 21. "Sometimes you think about it, and you think, 'Oh, you know does this really do that?' When I became convinced that this legislation would save the lives of children who are alive today, it became important to me to promote this to the Senate."

Nicotine – a major ingredient in tobacco products – is highly addictive, and adolescents are more susceptible to its effects.

Ernest Hawk, vice president and division head for cancer prevention and population sciences at University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, told lawmakers nearly every smoker starts using tobacco before they turn 21. 

"The benefits of raising the age for sale of tobacco to 21 are anticipated to be extremely significant," he said. "For every three young people who are prevented from smoking by increasing the legal age of sale, there will be one less smoking-related death in the future – 3 to 1."

Huffman said there is broad support for the bill and pointed to a 2018 poll commissioned by the American Cancer Society that found two-thirds of Texas voters favor raising the age for buying tobacco products to 21. 

She said both Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Gov. Greg Abbott support SB 21. During each legislative session, the lieutenant governor and speaker of the House give the lowest bill numbers to their priority legislation. This session, that includes Senate bills 1 through 30.

Seven other states – California, Hawaii, Maine, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Oregon and Virginia – and several hundred localities have similar laws. An ordinance prohibiting the sale of tobacco products to anyone under 21 went into effect in San Antonio last year.

Becky Fogel of The Texas Standard contributed to this report. 

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