A bill to raise the state’s age to purchase tobacco to 21 burned out during last year’s legislative session. But now that the city of San Antonio has done it on a local level, advocates of “T-21” are hoping to light a fire under other Texas cities ― and state lawmakers ― to do the same.
The San Antonio City Council recently approved an ordinance prohibiting the sale of tobacco products within the city limits to anyone younger than 21, instead of age 18. The ordinance, which takes effect Oct. 1, targets retailers who sell tobacco, rather than the young tobacco buyers themselves. Retailers in violation of the ordinance could be fined up to $500.
The ordinance had strong support from the Bexar County Medical Society, the Texas Medical Association, and more than 20 other organizations.
"This is a great first step for a Texas community that is tired of footing the bill for the addiction cycle," TMA President Carlos J. Cardenas, MD, said. "We must not provide tobacco companies a new generation of addicts whose health costs are shouldered by other Texans, especially taxpayers."
According to the San Antonio Express-News, San Antonio is the first Texas city to raise the tobacco-purchasing age. The ordinance follows a 2017 state legislative session in which TMA supported House Bill 1908, which would have raised the tobacco-purchasing age to 21 statewide. The bill, by Rep. John Zerwas, MD (R-Richmond), made it out of the House Committee on Public Health but never advanced to a floor vote.
San Antonio pediatrician Leah Jacobson, MD, who helped represent the Bexar County Medical Society in the T-21 drive, said the crux of the initiative is to reduce the presence of cigarettes in high schools.
"Obviously, the peer pressures that teenagers face can be significant. I have had patients who knew they had asthma who would still try it, saying, 'That’s what the cool kids do,'" Dr. Jacobson said. 'The teenage years are very formative and often experimental."
Representative Zerwas says the San Antonio law could get the ball rolling for other Texas towns to do the same, and it makes him even more excited for another statewide push during the 2019 legislative session.
"But even if San Antonio is the only city that takes it up, then I still think that we've got some traction there," he said. "I've heard pretty positive and encouraging things since the legislative session from the leadership. I'm encouraged that it's going to be met with [an] even warmer reception than it was during the last session."
The San Antonio City Council passed the ordinance 9-2, according to the Express-News. Dissenting council members questioned whether the regulation was improper and had concerns about the impact on smaller businesses.