Texas Raises Legal Smoking Age To 21

By Paul Gaita 06/11/19

The ban does not extend to members of the military under the age of 21 years.

person smoking in Texas

Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed into law a bill that prohibits the sale of cigarettes and other tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, to anyone under the age of 21.

Supporters of the ban, which goes into effect September 1, said that it could aid in reducing the number of young adults who become regular smokers, which according to the Surgeon General numbers around 2,400 per day.  With passage of the bill, Texas joins a growing list of cities and states across the country that have increased the legal tobacco age.

Governor Abbott signed Senate Bill 21 into law on Friday (June 7). The scope of the ban includes cigarettes and other tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has attributed with a 38% rise in tobacco use among high school students between 2017 and 2018. Juul, which the Huffington Post described as the most commonly used brand of e-cigarette, has voiced support for "Tobacco 21" legislation, as such bills are often called.

As HuffPost also noted, the ban does not extend to members of the military under the age of 21 years.

A report from the Surgeon General stated that more than 600,000 middle school students and three million high school students currently smoke cigarettes. Those numbers have slowed in their decline over the last decade, while rates of decline for smokeless tobacco, such as e-cigarettes, have "stalled completely," according to the report.

The report also stated that more than 1,200 individuals in the United States die due to smoking-related causes each day, and for each of those deaths, at least two "youth or young adults" become regular smokers each day. Approximately 90% of those "replacement smokers" use their first cigarette by the age of 18.

According to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, similar "Tobacco 21" bans have been passed in 14 states including California, Hawaii (the first to pass such a ban in 2016), Illinois, Massachusetts and New Jersey. Some 470 cities and counties, including New York City, Chicago and Boston, have also passed bans, though the strength of these ordinances varies by location.

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is trying to raise the tobacco age to 21 on the federal level.

Beverly Hills, California, recently became what is believed to be the first city to ban tobacco sales to anyone, save for hotel guests, cigar lounges and any retailer that can demonstrate undue financial distress due to the ban.

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, Amazon.com and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites.