Vaping Under 21 Goes Up In Smoke

Ava De Leon, Staffer

In the past several years, vaping and smoking have become more common among young adults according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The popularity of these pastimes led to the introduction of Senate Bill 21 (SB 21), which increases the legal age to possess cigarettes or e-cigarettes.
On September 1, 2019, SB 21 was put into effect, raising the minimum age requirement from 18 to 21 years old for buying, possessing and consuming cigarettes, e-cigarettes or tobacco products. The law was put in place to help improve public health and prevent tobacco-related deaths by limiting access to cigarettes, tobacco products and e-cigarettes for adolescents. Tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable death in the United States according to National Data and in the House Research Organization bill analysis. Legislators said that creating a larger age gap between high school students and of-age purchasers would help keep tobacco products out of Texas public schools. Research and data on the national level show that 95% of adult smokers begin smoking before they turn 21 and many smokers start even younger. Nelda Hunter, the Chief of Staff for Representative John Zerwas, believes that instating the law will help lower the number of young adults who use cigarettes and become addicted to tobacco at a young age.
“Cigarettes are extremely addictive and are known to cause cancer,” Hunter said. “E-cigarettes are also addictive, and teens are increasingly using these still-harmful devices. This law will help reduce the number of individuals under the age of 21 who smoke. The law intends to discourage and make harder the ability of teens to access cigarettes and e-cigarettes.”
According to the House Research Organization bill analysis, one of the contributing factors that pushed this law through the legislature is the fact that tobacco products are dangerous and harmful, especially to adolescents. David Journeay, the Science Department chair at LASA, said he wanted to emphasize the importance of teaching students the damaging effects of cigarettes, e-cigarettes and any other tobacco-related intake.
“Teaching a Psychology course, one of the things we tell our students, who are mostly 17 and 18 years of age is that the teenage brain has not developed yet to make good sound decisions about many things,” Journeay said. “We know that smoking cigarettes increases your risk tremendously for developing all kinds of respiratory diseases, emphysema and in particular, lung cancer.”
According to Hunter, SB 21 has been in the works for many years and many people have worked on the law trying to adapt it and encourage other legislators to endorse the law as well. Hunter said the change was expected for some time but was only passed just recently in the 2019 session for all of Texas.
“Members of the Texas Legislature have supported this change for years, but the law has gained traction after many [city and county] governments have supported changes to the legal sale of age,” Hunter said. “SB 21 makes the law statewide.”
Despite the fact that it is now illegal to possess and consume tobacco products if you are under the age of 21 in the state of Texas, some parents and adults, like Journeay, still worry that students will not make the right choices regarding what they put into their bodies. Journeay also said that he would prefer that no one used tobacco products, but especially not young adults.
“If young people are not smart enough to recognize that what they are doing is possibly killing them, then I don’t think they should have access to it,” Journeay said. “Now is the law going to stop that? No, they’ll still find a way to do it.”
Hunter, having worked closely with SB 21, is more keen on noticing the effectiveness of the law and the positive impact it has had on the community. While these effects of the law might be subtle, according to Hunter, it is still a step towards decreasing tobacco usage in young teenagers.
“The change is very obvious to me, but because I worked on it, I am more aware of it,” Hunter said. “I see the new signage in grocery stores and gas stations, and I know the retailers will follow it because there are penalties for those that do not. As far as individuals under age 21 still accessing the product, I assume it will happen, just like individuals under 21 still drink alcohol despite it being illegal.”
Georgianne Crowell, Director of Community Outreach and Education at Texans for Safe and Drug-Free Youth, believes that as the popularity of tobacco products fluctuates, more bills will have to be added and adopted to keep access to those products restrictive. Crowell is hopeful that the proper enforcement will be used statewide to enforce this new law.
“As more time passes, and we start to see the negative health impacts of certain e-cigarette products, additional laws will need to be considered to protect Texas youth,” Crowell said. “Fortunately, the Texas Tobacco 21 law does also include e-cigarettes.”
According to Hunter, there is still much work and effort needed to slow or stop cigarettes, e-cigarettes and tobacco products from being used, but SB 21 has made enormous progress towards that goal. Although some people, Journeay included, believe that tobacco usage should be illegal for anyone to use, as it can ruin relationships and threaten lives, Journeay said he recognizes that small steps are useful for the decline of the cigarette market.
“I think it is better,” Hunter said. “Anything that can be done to discourage and disincentivize risky and harmful behavior helps people.”