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OpEd: Raise the Smoking Age Locally

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October 1, 2017

The time to end youth tobacco use has long passed. Nicotine is bad for our health, we know the effects of these products on the developing brain are not good, and we know that most long-term smokers began smoking when they were teenagers. The science is settled, and there is no counter-argument. And yet, despite all the evidence, we still allow 18 year old seniors in high school to buy cigarettes. Enough is enough. It's time to change.

Since 2003, I have filed legislation to reduce smoking and get tobacco products out of the hands of our children. Last session, I filed Senate Bill 183, which would have increased the smoking age to 21. Despite unprecedented bipartisan support for increasing the smoking age at the Texas Legislature, neither my bill nor a similar house bill managed to pass. With each session, the coalition of groups working for a tobacco-free Texas grows a little larger and the public support of increasing the age grow stronger.

While we work to make a change statewide, the San Antonio City Council is considering increasing the tobacco age within the city limits. The City of San Antonio is currently running a survey of San Antonio residents to measure public opinion on increasing the tobacco age. If you have a few moments, I encourage you to visit www.tinyurl.com/age21survey and answer a couple of questions. The City of San Antonio would like to get at least 5,000 respondents, so please make your voice heard.

The US Department of Defense (DoD) has recognized tobacco usage among young enlisted members as a major problem which needs to be addressed. In fact, the DoD estimates that tobacco usage in the armed forces costs the Veterans Administration an estimated $1.2 billion annually. This dollar figure only accounts for recovery from the injuries caused by tobacco consumption. The amount doesn't include the unseen impact of soldiers who are unable to run as far or as fast as their non-smoking peers.

Many young people don't think about their health at 30 years old, let alone their health at 60 or 70 years old. When a teenager begins smoking, he or she is thinking about looking cool and rebellious in front of their friends today, not the lifetime ahead spent struggling to quit or the constant tightness in their chest.  As adults and parents, our job is to help keep kids from making the same dumb mistakes we did—and avoiding a crippling addiction is a no brainer.

Let’s increase the smoking age once and for all. I plan to continue my quest at the state level by filing legislation next session. In the meantime, I hope you will make your voice heard locally by weighing in and taking the City of San Antonio survey. Hopefully, Texas and San Antonio will join the over 270 states, counties, and cities that have already increased their smoking age.