On September 1, 2019, Texas Senate Bill 21 went into effect and raised the sales age for tobacco in the Lone Star state from 18 to 21. While it is true that those born before August 31, 2001, are not subject to the change, those born after are expected to adhere to the new law or else face penalties. Only those with an active military ID will be able to purchase tobacco products once they are 18 years old.

Senate Bill 21 passed amid mounting concerns over tobacco usage among teenagers and young adults, particularly with regard to e-cigarettes (which, like cigarettes or other traditional tobacco products, are restricted under the new law). According to A Smoke Free Paso del Norte, an initiative at the Paso del Norte Health Foundation, e-cigarette usage increased to 20.8% among high school students in 2018, almost double from (11.7%) 2017.

Despite the pervasive sense of tobacco’s dangers, tobacco continues to be the leading cause of preventable death in the United States. In addition to financial and health costs to individuals, Texas loses an estimated $8.85 billion in annual health care costs related to smoking and its secondary health effects.

But how effective will Texas Tobacco 21 be? A study by the National Academy of Medicine concluded that raising the age for tobacco usage could have a meaningful and positive impact on public health. According to their estimates, the change in the law could not only reduce the rate of smokers but could also lower smoking-related deaths by ten percent. Given that national data reports that estimate 95% of adult smokers begin smoking before the age of 21, Texas Tobacco 21 will help reduce instances of teen smokers becoming adult smokers. In El Paso alone, a national tobacco prevention organization, Tobacco 21, estimates that over the course of their lifetime, 2,600 youth lives will be saved by the change in legislation.

Among the general public and across both parties, raising the age for tobacco use enjoys widespread support and about 62% of Texas smokers support raising the age. This bill passed easily through the Texas legislature and was crafted in coordination with several organizations including the MD Anderson, American Heart Association, Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, the Texas Alliance of YMCAs, and our own YMCA of El Paso. While enforcing the law will be left to Texas Peace Officers, communities throughout Texas are prepared to support the state’s concerted effort to reduce smoking among teens.

Through the Paso del Norte Health Foundation’s Smoke Free Initiative, the YMCA of El Paso is offering educational presentations about the Texas Tobacco 21 law for parents and school districts. To schedule one, please call 915-730-3805.

If you are concerned about your or a loved one’s tobacco usage, contact Smoke Free at the YMCA of El Paso. Counseling and support are available free of charge to those who need it. For more information, visit smokefreepdn.org or call 915-730-3805.