A Democratic state senator in Texas wants to raise the legal age for purchasing tobacco in the state to 21. Though this could be a good move to curb teen smoking, the legislation would, as is often the case, include e-cigarette and vapor products along with tobacco.
State Senator Carlos Uresti cited the cost of smoking-related health issues as a primary reason for his proposal to raise the tobacco-buying age to 21. In addition to smoking health problems costing taxpayers money, Uresti, a Marine, says that the Department of Defense forks over $1.6 billion a year because of tobacco use among enlisted members of the military.
But Uresti also wants to add e-cigarettes and vaping products to the bill, which would legally prevent adults between the ages of 18 and 21 from purchasing these products. Uresti says this is about younger teens, however, because he believes that peer pressure on teens aged 15 to 17 would be reduced by raising the vaping purchase age to 21.
Another Texas democrat, Donna Howard, has filed a companion bill in the State House of Representatives. While anti smoking and anti vaping laws are more often championed by Democrats, in Texas, at least one Republican, Rep. John Zerwas, has stated that he is behind the bill. Zerwas is a doctor who says that public health is his primary reason for support the bill.
The Texas Medical Association and the American Heart Association are in favor of raising the tobacco-buying age to 21. There appear to be few arguments against keeping tobacco out of the hands of younger adults, but a consumer freedom associate, Guy Bentley, pointed out that smoking rates are on the decline in Texas anyway, without this type of legislation. Bentley is against the proposed bill.
Including vapor products and e-cigarettes in the legislation has brought many arguments. Bentley says that legally banning adult teens and 20-year-olds from purchasing vaping products could harm those who already smoke tobacco cigarettes. British research has shown that vaping is not something that non-smokers are picking up as a habit. Most people who vape are in fact smokers trying to quit or former smokers who have successfully quit. Many smokers and former smokers are speaking out against the Texas bill.
Some opponents of the inclusion of vaping in the legislation say fear drives the government when it comes to e-cigarettes. The FDA, says Michelle Minton of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, worries about the possibility of future harm from e-cigarettes because it could be held responsible. The agency is usually held responsible for approved products that cause harm, but not for the failure to make products available that could have reduced harm. So he FDA is protecting itself by choosing to restrict e-cigarettes.
Bentley sums it up by saying that the Texas bill is a solution looking for a problem, because teenagers are not getting hooked on e-cigarettes and they are not even smoking cigarettes much these days. While he believes that tobacco and e-cigarettes should be prohibited for teens under 18, he doesn’t think an age increase is necessary. He also cites freedom of choice and civil liberties that would be violated if the age were raised to 21. “These proposals will say you are responsible enough to fight for your country overseas and risk your life,” he states,” but you are not responsible enough to choose whether you want to smoke a cigarette or use vapor products.” Bentley calls that a “fundamental infringement” on the civil liberties of adults.