Two Texas lawmakers proposing to raise the state’s minimum tobacco age of sale to 21 – backed by a coalition of health care organizations – at a press conference Tuesday urged passage of their bills to protect and save the lives of young Texans by keeping them from becoming addicted to tobacco.

House Bill 1908 by Rep. John Zerwas, M.D., (R-Richmond) and Senate Bill 910 by Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston) have broad, bipartisan support in the Texas Legislature and among Texans, a recent poll has shown.

Increasing the legal age of tobacco sales from 18 to 21 is an important step to reduce and eventually eliminate the toll of tobacco because an estimated 95 percent of smokers start before age 21.

“The goal of this legislation is not to regulate individual choices, but to widen the gap between the availability of tobacco products and high school-aged Texans,” Zerwas said. “This is an opportunity to address an issue with devastating impacts on public health and great costs to our health care systems.”

“Without a doubt, the long term effects of our legislation will save lives and taxpayer dollars,” Huffman said.

Zerwas and Huffman were joined at the press conference by Sen. Carlos Uresti (D-San Antonio); Ernest Hawk, M.D., vice president and division head for Cancer Prevention and Population Sciences at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, as an educational resource; Carlos Vela, a senior at Ingleside High School in Ingleside, Texas, and the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids’ 2016 South Region Youth Advocate of the Year; and health care organization members of the Texas 21 Coalition.

“I have long proposed that the age of tobacco sale should be raised,” Uresti said. “As a former Marine, and from a family with a proud history of military service, I do not believe the minimum age of military service should equal readiness to enlist in a lifetime of nicotine addiction. Tobacco use is bad for military preparedness and puts a tremendous financial drain on the Department of Defense and Veterans Administration health care systems.”

In Texas, more than 13,000 kids become new daily smokers every year and nearly a half-million young Texans (498,000) will die early from a tobacco-related disease without additional action to reduce tobacco use.

“Young people like Carlos are at an age when most smokers experiment with tobacco and become addicted,” Hawk said. “Evidence suggests increasing the state’s tobacco sale age will help counter this reality and reduce access to tobacco in high schools, saving many lives from the devastating health effects of tobacco use.”

Hawk also pointed to a 2015 report by the Institute of Medicine (now called the National Academy of Medicine) that concluded that increasing the tobacco age of sale to 21 would yield substantial public health benefits. The report predicted 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.

In Texas, 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, including more than $1.9 billion in Medicaid costs, according to research gathered by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.

“Those costs are borne by every Texan, smoker or nonsmoker,” said Zerwas, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. “Tobacco costs each Texas household about $738 due to smoking-caused government expenditures at both local and state levels.”

In addition to the support by health care organizations and scientific studies, Zerwas and Huffman said they are encouraged that an overwhelming majority of Texans back their goal to keep tobacco out of the hands of children.

Among Texans, 69 percent of voters favor a statewide law to raise the legal age for tobacco sales from 18 to 21, according to a December 2016 statewide poll conducted by Public Opinion Strategies and commissioned by the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network. Support for the increase spans the political spectrum, favored by two-thirds of Republicans and Independents and more than 70 percent of Democrats. Even 62 percent of smokers in Texas support raising the tobacco sale age to 21.

If enacted into law, Texas would become the third state to set the minimum tobacco sale age at 21, joining Hawaii and California, in addition to at least 220 localities nationwide.

Backing HB 1908 and SB 910 is the Texas 21 Coalition (, which includes the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN), American Heart Association, American Lung Association in Texas, Baylor Scott & White, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, March of Dimes, Texas Medical Association, Texas Nurses Association, Texas Pediatric Society and Texas Public Health Coalition. The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center is present as an educational resource only.

Texas 21 Coalition Organization Quotes:

Cam Scott, ACS CAN Government Relations Director: “Texas is already a leader in cancer research, and now it is time for Texas to lead in prevention. Keeping tobacco out of the hands of young people will help prevent addiction and slow the deadly toll of tobacco in Texas – a toll that costs Texans more than $8.8 billion in health care and accounts for the deaths of more than 28,000 people every year.”

Matthew L. Myers, President of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids: “Increasing the tobacco age to 21 will help prevent young people from using tobacco, save lives and help make the next generation tobacco-free. We thank Rep. Zerwas, Sen. Huffman and their colleagues for being real leaders and putting the interests of Texas kids ahead of the tobacco industry.”

American Heart Association volunteer Maricela Wilson, RN, BSN, WOCN: “Our children and our grandchildren deserve a healthier community and a healthier America. Through this legislation, we can stop habits before they start and demonstrate the value of health to future generations. We know that when we raise the age to 21 in communities, there are dramatic drops in teen smoking, up to 50 percent in some areas. Together we can create better tomorrows.”

March of Dimes: “Raising the minimum age required to purchase tobacco products can significantly improve birth outcomes. For expecting mothers, tobacco use during pregnancy increases the risk of premature delivery and low-birth weight babies.”

Don R. Read, MD, president of the Texas Medical Association: “The most important thing a person can do to live longer is to reject smoking, and since younger people are more susceptible to addiction, TMA physicians support the idea of keeping deadly tobacco out of our young patients’ lives.”

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Texas 21 Organization Media Contacts:

Adrienne Lynch, American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, 512-919-1822,
Whitney Presley, American Heart Association, 512-338-2435,
Heather Mangan, American Lung Association in Texas, 312-801-7631,
John Schachter, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, 202-271-8698,
Jessica Putallaz, March of Dimes, 713-964-5436,
Brent Annear, Texas Medical Association, 512-370-1381,
Clayton Boldt, MD Anderson, 713-792-9518,

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