Bill would raise age to buy tobacco to 19

Texas youths will have to be at least 19 to buy tobacco products, if a state senator has his way.

Sen. Carlos Uresti, D-San Antonio, has filed a bill for the upcoming legislative session that would require Texans to be 19, one year older than the current minimum, to use and buy tobacco products.

“Raising the smoking age would limit availability to the vast majority of high school students, most of whom have graduated by the time they turn 19,” Uresti said. “With this decrease in availability would come a corresponding decrease in accessibility for underage adolescents.”

Similar bills have died in the Legislature in past years, but Uresti has said his proposal is an important step toward breaking the cycle of tobacco addiction that generally begins during a person’s teens, and keeping cigarettes out of high schools.

Nearly 1 in every 5 Texans 18 and older, more than 3.2 million people, are regular smokers, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Research shows that delaying legal access to smoking reduces the risks of youths becoming addicted to nicotine, but that’s hard to do if 18-year-olds can legally buy cigarettes and share them with younger friends.

“We know that almost 90 percent of current smokers start before the age of 19,” said Philip Huang, a spokesman for the Texas Medical Association. “The longer you can delay any initiations, the more effective you are in getting people not to start.

“Tobacco is the No. 1 preventable cause of death and disease in Texas,” he said. “It kills more than AIDS, crack, heroin, cocaine, alcohol, car accidents, fire and murder combined. Anything we can do to address this important public health problem is important.”

Opponents have said in the past that raising the smoking age could lead to lower tax revenue from cigarette taxes. And they’ve said that if 18-year-old Texans are old enough to serve in the military then they should be old enough to decide whether to smoke.

Bill Phelps, a spokesman for Phillip Morris, said the company has no comment on the bill.

Uresti has said that raising the smoking age would cut the amount of taxes Texas collects from cigarette sales but that it would save teens’ lives and reduce healthcare costs.

There have been various efforts nationwide to raise the minimum smoking age, to 19 and in some cases to 21. States that have raised the age to 19 include Alabama, Alaska, New Jersey and Utah.


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