The Texas Medical Association and the Texas Public Health Coalition are asking lawmakers to strengthen Texas’ laws aimed at keeping tobacco and e-cigarettes out of the hands of Texas youth.
Great strides were made in the 2019 legislative session with the passage of Tobacco 21, a law that raised the minimum purchase age for tobacco and vape products from 18 to 21. But enforcement of the measure remains a challenge, as Texas youth are still easily able to procure these nicotine products, based on information available from the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.
In fact, nearly 20% of high schoolers and 5% of middle schoolers use e-cigarettes, and among youth e-cigarette users, nearly 83% use flavored e-cigarettes, according to the 2020 National Youth Tobacco Survey.
TMA also points to research showing that increasing taxes on e-cigarettes will help children stop smoking as they are sensitive to pricing hikes. The additional revenue generated also would help fund retail enforcement activities that ensure Texas youth are not able to purchase nicotine and e-cigarette products in the first place.
“The younger kids are when they start using tobacco, the more likely they’ll become addicted,” Keller pediatrician Jason V. Terk, MD, chair of the Texas Public Health Coalition, told the Texas Medical Association. “We’ve known for almost six decades now how harmful these products are for children. We must keep kids today from becoming tomorrow’s tobacco death statistic.”
TMA’s legislative recommendations include a combination of financial and non-financial strategies to protect Texas youth from becoming addicted to nicotine while increasing state revenue to fund such public health efforts and offset the state’s health care costs associated with nicotine consumption:
- Require all retailers to obtain a permit to sell e-cigarettes.
- Close the excise tax loophole on e-cigarettes and tax at parity with all cigarettes, including all components such as tanks, mods, and liquids.
- Raise the cigarette tax an additional $1.50 per pack. The tax currently is $1.41 per pack.
- Enhance enforcement of the Tobacco 21 law prohibiting sales of tobacco and e-cigarette products to underage Texans, including increased compliance checks on retailed and enhanced penalties.
- Protect and restore Department of State Health Services funding for tobacco prevention and enforcement.
- Oppose any attempts by the tobacco industry to thwart prohibitions on the sale of flavored tobacco products in Texas.
Legislators are listening. Several bills have been filed to address these public health concerns, including:
- Senate Bill 216 by Sen. Nathan Johnson (D-Dallas) and its companion bills, House Bill 1255 by Rep. Steve Allison (R-San Antonio) and House Bill 1523 by Rep. Shawn Thierry (D-Houston), which would impose permit requirements and sales, use, and excise taxes on e-cigarettes, and implement disciplinary rules for cigarettes, tobacco, and e-cigarettes;
- Senate Bill 248, also by Senator Johnson, which would require permits to sell e-cigarettes; and
- Senate Bill 836 by Sen. Carol Alvarado (D-Houston), which would prohibit the sale of flavored cigarettes, tobacco, and e-cigarettes.
TMA Needs Your Expert Help
The 2021 legislative session is already nearing the halfway point, and the opportunities to stop bad bills and promote good ones are mounting. Time-sensitive Action Alerts are an effective and an efficient way for you to share your messages of concern and support with legislators from the convenience of your desk or mobile phone. Action Alerts arrive by email and have a pre-written response, to which we strongly encourage you to add a personalized story or anecdote about how the proposed legislation will affect you, your patients, and your practice. You can access Action Alerts from the email you receive, our Grassroots Action Center, or the VoterVoice mobile app. Just click the link and go. In fact, there’s one waiting for you now!
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