Testimony by Douglas W. Curran, MD, President, TMA
House Public Health Committee
House Bill 749 by Rep. John Zerwas
March 6, 2019
Thank you, Chairwoman Thompson and members of the Public Health Committee for this opportunity to testify in support of House Bill 749 by Representative Zerwas. My name is Doug Curran; I am a family medicine physician from Athens and president of the Texas Medical Association. I am speaking today on behalf of TMA, Texas Pediatric Society, Texas Association of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists – Chapter XI (Texas), Texas Society for Gastroenterology and Endoscopy, Texas Academy of Family Physicians, and Texas Public Health Coalition with its 37 member organizations. These organizations, along with the associations’ more than 53,000 physicians and medical student members, collectively and emphatically support “T21” – raising the minimum legal purchasing age of tobacco to 21 to protect the health of our Texas youth.
Tobacco still persists as the No. 1 cause of preventable disease and premature death in Texas. Most smokers – about 95 percent – started smoking well before the age of 21, and it is estimated that more than 65,000 young Texans under the age of 18 experiment with tobacco every year. Of these, 10,400 Texas high school students become regular smokers annually.
Two-thirds of 10th grade students and nearly half of eighth grade students say it’s easy to get cigarettes. Most of this access is through their older friends. T21 seeks to prevent this by lowering the likelihood of youth being in the same social networks as those who can purchase tobacco legally.
The younger kids are when they start using tobacco, the more likely they’ll become addicted. Exposure to tobacco and nicotine at a young age affects brain development and increases risk for nicotine dependence. With nicotine addiction and continued use into adulthood come even greater risks of lung cancer, coronary heart disease, diabetes, stroke, and other cancers, as well as early death. If current trends continue, nearly half a million (498,000) Texas kids alive now will ultimately die prematurely from smoking.ii
An estimated 7.6 percent of Texas high school students, or 118,600 kids, smoke.ii The numbers are even higher when it comes to new vape products, such as e-cigarettes and JUULs. As these new tobacco products continue to entice our teens with sweet, candy-like flavors, this will only get worse. The most recent Texas Youth Tobacco Survey showed 41 percent of high school students have tried vape products. That’s almost half our children experimenting with a product that contains nicotine – a chemical we all know to be highly addictive and harmful to brain development and lung function.
As a physician, I am amazed that we, in medicine and in public health, are still having this fight. We’ve known for almost six decades how harmful tobacco and nicotine is for our children. We’ve known for almost four decades how the tobacco industry considers “today’s teenagers” “tomorrow’s potential regular customer.” More than 28,000 Texans die each year because of tobacco,ii and we, as physicians, urge this committee to keep our kids today from being tomorrow’s tobacco death statistic. TMA and all of the organizations represented urge this committee to pass HB 749 – to help protect our Texas children from potential nicotine addiction, chronic disease, and a life cut short because of tobacco. Thank you again for this opportunity to testify, and I would be happy to answer any questions at this time.
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