House panel considers raising smoking age from 18 to 21,
A House committee considered legislation Tuesday that would raise the minimum smoking age in Texas from 18 to 21, the sixth such attempt in recent years.
House Bill 1908, filed by state Rep. John Zerwas, R-Richmond, has the support of a bipartisan group of 16 House members. A companion bill in the Senate is co-authored by state Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston, and state Sen. Carlos Uresti, D-San Antonio.
If passed, Texas would join Hawaii and California in raising the smoking age, supporters said.
“I think we all know what the human costs are with tobacco — it is the No. 1 preventable cause of death in Texas and in the United States,” Zerwas said. “The tobacco companies target the kids, we know that. Increasing the legal age would counter the efforts of companies to target young adults at a critical time when many move from experimenting with tobacco to regular smoking.”
According to a 2015 National Institute of Medicine report, raising the minimum smoking age from 18 to 21 would lead to an estimated 12 percent decrease in tobacco use throughout the country.
But opponents say the age hike would be a burden on the state’s finances, with the legislation potentially causing a loss of more than $34 million in tax revenue over the next two years, according to fiscal impact estimates from the Legislative Budget Board.
Board Director Ursula Parks said the board used estimates from the Texas Comptroller’s Office, which said one third of all tobacco users aged 18-21 would comply with the law.
Zerwas and committee members asked Parks to clarify whether there would be any cost savings seen from compliance under the bill, such as through fewer trips to hospitals for tobacco-related care. Many of these savings are hard to quantify, as health benefits would occur later in life, Parks said.
Opponents also argued the bill should exclude vaping devices, e-cigarettes and other products designed to ween addicted tobacco users off cigarettes.
“As a parent, I can’t endorse any bill that would take away the right of someone who has proudly served their country and criminalizes a good option for nicotine therapy,” said William Thomas, who said his son uses low-dose tobacco products to help cope with post-traumatic stress disorder.
The House Public Health Committee heard three hours of testimony and didn’t vote on the bill on Tuesday.
Legislation to raise the minimum smoking age in Texas from 18 to 21 has the support of Republicans and Democrats in the House and Senate.