House panel con­sid­ers rais­ing smok­ing age from 18 to 21,

Austin American-Statesman - - FRONT PAGE - By For­rest Mil­burn Amer­i­can-States­man Staff

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.

JAY JANNER / AMER­I­CAN-STATES­MAN 2013

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.

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