Up in smoke


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Matthew Muriel

New tobacco law raises purchase age from 18 to 21.

On Jan. 11,  2018, the San Antonio City Council approved an ordinance raising the age to purchase tobacco products from 18 to 21. The Tobacco 21 (T21) ordinance made it out of the council meeting with a 9-to-2 vote and will take effect on Oct. 1, 2018, within San Antonio cities.

San Antonio will be the first city in Texas to increase the age to purchase tobacco, joining a growing list of cities and states enacting similar laws. As of 2018, six states have increased the age to purchase tobacco products to 21: California, New Jersey, Oregon, Hawaii, Massachusetts and Maine. The Texas State Legislature proposed a seperate bill to increase the tobacco purchasing age, but it did not make it out of committee in early 2017.

T21-like laws were created in an effort to keep tobacco products out of young teens’ hands and to delay the age of first tobacco use. According to a 2014 Surgeon General’s Report on smoking, the mean age of using a tobacco product was 15-years-old, and the mean age of starting daily smoking was 18-years-old. It was also found that among adults who had ever smoked cigarettes daily, 86.9 percent had tried their first cigarette by the time they were 18. The rationale behind this type of ordinance is that by raising the age to buy tobacco, you avoid 18-year-old high school students giving their younger peers cigarettes.

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Vaping is also a growing issue as e-cigarettes become more popular among adolescents. The United States Health and Human Services reported that from 2011 to 2016, the percentage of 12th grade students who had used an e-cigarette increased from 4.7 to 13 percent. In 2017, eight percent of high school students had reported vaping nicotine at least once in the past 30 days.

Vaping has become such an issue among teenagers that the FDA declared that e-cigarette use has reached “epidemic proportion” and has thus begun to take action against makers and sellers of e-cigarettes. Last Wednesday, the agency gave notice that e-cigarette manufacturers have 60 days to come up with plans to address the widespread use of their products among minors, going so far as to suggest curtailment of the sale of their flavored products.

“Each day, nearly 6,000 teenagers under 18 start smoking. Of these, nearly 2,000 will become regular smokers, which equates to 800,000 annually.” – Cleveland Clinic

Opposition to the T21 ordinance have made arguments that this law will hurt small business owners in San Antonio, and City Councilmember Greg Brockhouse, one of the voters that opposed the ordinance, was cited saying, “If 18-year-olds can serve in the military then they should have the right to buy tobacco.”

The T21 ordinance does have its limitations, as it only places a penalty on the sale and distribution of tobacco products to someone who is under 21-years-old and can result in a fine of up to $500. This means that anyone 20-years-old or younger found in possession of tobacco products will not face a penalty. The ordinance also does not prevent someone from simply purchasing tobacco products from one of the surrounding cities.

T21 will take effect on Monday, Oct. 1. Only time will tell if the ordinance will have a successful impact on curtailing the use of tobacco among young adults, yet as it currently stands, this ordinance seems to be huge win for anti-smoking legislation in San Antonio.