FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: February 15, 2017

(AUSTIN, TX) – Leaders in the Texas Legislature took bold action today to protect kids from tobacco addiction and save lives by introducing bipartisan legislation to raise the sale age of tobacco products in the state to 21. Public health groups praised bill authors Sen. Joan Huffman and Rep. John Zerwas for providing strong leadership in the fight against tobacco – the No. 1 preventable cause of death. Increasing the tobacco age to 21 will help prevent young people from using tobacco, save lives and contribute to making the next generation tobacco-free.

Despite tremendous progress in reducing smoking, tobacco use still kills more than 28,000 Texans and costs the state more than $8.8 billion in health care bills each year. Nearly a half-million young Texans (498,000) will die early from a tobacco-related disease without additional action to reduce tobacco use.

Increasing the tobacco age to 21 is a critical step in reducing and eventually eliminating tobacco’s terrible toll, especially considering that nationally, about 95 percent of adult smokers began smoking before they turned 21. In Texas, more than 13,000 kids become new daily smokers every year. If we can keep people from smoking as kids, then most will never start.

“Despite great progress made in the past 50 years, tobacco-caused diseases still claim a staggering number of lives each year,” said Ronald A. DePinho, M.D., president of The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. “The evidence indicates that raising the minimum legal age of sale of tobacco to 21 will help reduce smoking rates and health care expenditures – and, importantly, contribute to saving lives. We must take action to protect the future health of our children from the deadly effects of smoking and tobacco use.”

“Without a doubt, the long term effects of this legislation [SB 910] will save lives,” said Sen. Huffman. “I look forward to working with my colleagues and all of the stakeholders to get this meaningful legislation signed into law.”

“It’s time for our state to address an issue with devastating impacts on public health and great costs to our health care systems,” Rep. Zerwas added. “Smoking is an individual choice, but a choice that affects us all. The goal of the legislation [HB 1908] is not to regulate the choices the citizens of Texas make but to widen the gap between the availability of tobacco products and high school-aged people.”

The health groups supporting the Tobacco 21 effort include the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN), American Heart Association, American Lung Association, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, March of Dimes, MD Anderson, Texas Medical Association, Texas Pediatric Society and Texas Public Health Coalition.

A statewide poll conducted by Public Opinion Strategies in December 2016 (commissioned by ACS CAN) found that 69 percent of voters favor a statewide law to raise the legal age for tobacco sales from 18 to 21, with only 30 percent opposed. Support for the increase spans the political spectrum, with two-thirds of Republicans and Independents in favor and more than 70 percent of Democrats. Even 62 percent of smokers in Texas support raising the tobacco age to 21.

The increase in the tobacco age will help counter the tobacco industry’s efforts to target young people at a critical time when many move from experimenting with tobacco to regular smoking. It will also help keep tobacco out of high schools, where younger teens often obtain tobacco products from older students. A 2015 report by the prestigious Institute of Medicine (now called the National Academy of Medicine) concluded that increasing the tobacco sale age to 21 would yield substantial public health benefits, predicting that a nationwide law would, over time, reduce the smoking rate by 12 percent and smoking-related deaths by 10 percent. This translates into 223,000 fewer premature deaths.

Two states and more than 215 localities have adopted Tobacco 21 laws, while several other states across the nation are currently considering them.

Nationally, tobacco kills more than 480,000 people and costs about $170 billion in health care expenses each year.

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MEDIA CONTACTS:

Adrienne Lynch, American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, 512-919-1822, adrienne.lynch@cancer.org
Whitney Presley, American Heart Association, 512-338-2435, Whitney.presley@heart.org
Heather Mangan, American Lung Association, 312-801-7631, heather.mangan@lung.org
John Schachter, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, 202-481-9584, jschachter@tobaccofreekids.org
Jessica Putallaz, March of Dimes, 713-964-5436, JPutallaz@marchofdimes.org
Brent Annear, Texas Medical Association, 512-370-1381, Brent.annear@texmed.org
Clayton Boldt, MD Anderson, 713-792-9518, crboldt@mdanderson.org