A new effort has been launched to raise the minimum age to legally buy tobacco. The age is currently set at 18 in Texas. Legislation filed at the state capitol would bump it up to 21.
Efforts to reduce the use of tobacco have been going on for the past several decades. Tuesday, the latest attempt was announced by a bipartisan coalition of state lawmakers.
"I really believe that if we do it, other states will follow. And that’s why it’s so important for Texas to lead on this issue,” said State Senator Joan Huffman ( R ) Houston.
Legislation has been filed in the House and the Senate; HB 1908 and SB 910. According to a poll released by Texas21; nearly 70 percent of registered voters in the state favor increasing the legal age to buy tobacco from 18 to 21. It's believed the move will reduce the number of children who pick up the habit.
"Purchasing cigarettes at 18 isn't a rite of passage or a sign of adulthood, it’s the first step toward a lifetime of addiction and powerlessness,” said State Senator Carlos Uresti (D) San Antonio.
For lawmakers there is also a financial incentive to increase the minimum age. Its estimated Medicaid costs in Texas treating tobacco-related illnesses each year has now almost hit the $2 billion mark.
"If we can achieve some of what has been shown in the literature that can work, in terms of taken up this addictive behavior, we hopefully can also reduce the cost the state would have to incur and save the taxpayer’s dollars,” said State Rep. Donna Howard ( D ) Austin.
While the health and cost benefits may be well documented, there is the concern that state lawmakers are once again, trying to legislate morality.
"I think we have proven many times over legislating morality doesn't work, but providing good laws and regulations in place that does have an interest in the public health does make a difference,” said State Rep. John Zerwas
(R ) Richmond.
Despite that argument, smokers like James Wright still worry about legislative over reach.
"Are we going to raise, put a date or age, on when you can buy a Big Mac? When you can eat certain things? It just seems to me that there are a lot of things in our country and our state that are worth a lot more time from our legislators than when you can buy a cigarette,” said Wright.
No legislative hearings have been scheduled yet for either bill.
Last year California and Hawaii increased the age to 21. Several cities have done the same, among them, New York, Boston and Washington DC.