The Texas House placed its final stamp of approval on SB 21 — a bill that would raise the legal buying age for tobacco products from 18 to 21. The bill exempted active-duty military members from this rule change.
Rep. John Zerwas (R-Richmond), a practicing medical doctor, sponsored the House’s version.
SB 21 was authored by Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston) and passed the Senate on April 9, which was then assigned to the House Committee on Public Health.
Zerwas said on the floor, “It is well known that [14 to 17-year old’s] are highly susceptible to addictive behaviors,” and that this bill aims “to move that risk away from those most susceptible to it.”
According to the Center for Disease Control, from 2017 to 2018 the number of middle and high school students smoking increased by nearly 1.5 million.
Also included in the bill are vaping and other e-cigarette products.
In 2018, over 20 percent of all high school students said they smoked an e-cigarette product in the past month. By contrast, only around eight percent of high school students in 2018 said they had smoked a traditional cigarette in the past 30 days — more than a 15 percent drop since 2011.
As e-cigarette use among teens rises, traditional cigarette usage continues to drop to historic lows.
Since 2011, cigarette use by high schoolers has dropped from around 16 percent to around eight percent in 2017. In the same time period, e-cigarette usage among the same demographic went from between one and two percent in 2011, peaked in 2015 at nearly 17 percent, and dropped down to roughly 13 percent.
And in 2018, the Surgeon General stated that 19 percent of high school girls and 23 percent of high school boys use e-cigarettes.
Some believe that e-cigarettes can help smokers quit smoking traditional cigarettes. A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that smokers using e-cigarettes rather than nicotine-replacement methods were almost twice as likely to successfully quit — but still only at a less than 20 percent success rate.
The larger body of science is rather inconclusive when it comes to e-cigarette’s relationship to smoking and/or quitting since they haven’t been around nearly as long as traditional cigarettes. The relationship remains corollary at this point, but that seems to be enough for many in the legislature to tackle it.
On Tuesday, SB 21 passed the second reading by voice vote. Some debate was had and amendments were offered during floor proceedings.
One amendment, offered by Rep. Matt Schaefer (R-Tyler), struck the “active duty” specification so the exemption applies to anyone with a military ID. Schaefer said of the adjustment, “There is no practical way to enforce this,” referring to exempting active duty and non-active duty members of the military.
It passed and was adopted.
Another amendment by Rep. Justin Holland (R-Rockwell) attempted to exempt cigars from the age limit increase.
“Studies show less than two percent of this target demographic even use cigars,” Holland stated. Holland stressed that the spirit of the bill was aimed at products that are being “abused,” and since cigars are not one of those, their legal buying age should remain at 18.
That amendment was tabled by a vote of 93-44.
Rep. Tony Tinderholt (R-Arlington) offered an amendment to change the limiting langue of “21-years of age” to “voting age,” which would have effectively nullified the intent of the bill.
“When we start taking these freedoms away from people at the age of 18,” who have other adult responsibilities thrust upon them, Tinderholt highlighted, “we are doing ourselves a disservice.” Tinderholt concluded with, “If they are responsible enough to vote for you and [me], they are responsible enough to smoke.”
Zerwas said in response, “This bill is not about the 18 to 21-year-old, it is about the 14 to 17-year-old,” and the purpose is to “move the tobacco products away from the schools where they are rampant right now.”
The amendment was also tabled by a vote of 102-36.
Rep. Briscoe Cain (R-Houston) tried to kill the bill on a point of order concerning the bill analysis. The point of order was overruled. Cain then offered an amendment and was adopted, which disallowed any localities from instituting their own age requirements different from the state requirement.
SB 21 passed the House by a vote of 110-36.
The bill now heads to conference committee where the differences in the two versions, such as the exemption for military personnel, must be reconciled.
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Brad Johnson is an Ohio native who graduated from the University of Cincinnati in 2017. He is an avid sports fan who most enjoys watching his favorite teams continue their title drought throughout his cognizant lifetime. In his free time, you may find Brad watching and quoting Monty Python productions.