Support for a measure to raise the minimum age for buying cigarettes and other tobacco products from 18 to 21 is gaining support in the Texas Legislature, News Radio 1200 WOAI reports.
Several major health organizations have signed onto the bill, which has picked up backing from key Legislative leaders like State Sen. Carlos Uresti (D-San Antonio).
Uresti, who is a Marine and the father of a Marine, says the argument when the age to buy both tobacco and cigarettes was lowered from 21 to 18 back in the 1970s during the Vietnam War was that 'if a person is old enough to go to war, he is old enough to buy cigarettes.'
But he says that argument doesn't make any sense.
"The Department of Defense estimated that tobacco use costs the military $1.6 billion annually in lost productivity and health care expenses," Uresti said.
State Rep. John Zerwas, who is a doctor from east Texas, says the number one way that kids under 18 obtain smokes is by having an older friend buy them. But he says a 16 or 17 year old is far less likely to have a social circle which includes a person over 21.
“The goal of this legislation is not to regulate individual choices, but to widen the gap between the availability of tobacco products and high school-aged Texans,” Zerwas said. “This is an opportunity to address an issue with devastating impacts on public health and great costs to our health care systems.”
Among the groups that are backing the bill include Houston's M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, and the Texas 21 Coalition.
"I have seen many strong veterans who took up smoking at the age of 18 and have been unable to quit," Uresti said. "They have told me they wish they had never started to smoke."
In Texas, more than 13,000 kids become new daily smokers every year and nearly a half-million young Texans (498,000) will die early from a tobacco-related disease without additional action to reduce tobacco use.