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Mixed reactions to San Antonio's ordinance to raise tobacco purchasing age

Smoke shops and public health officials in Austin are taking notice after San Antonio's city council passed an ordinance that raised the age to buy tobacco products from 18 to 21.

San Antonio is the first city in Texas to raise the age to buy tobacco products from 18 to 21, and smoke shops and public health officials in Austin are taking notice.

San Antonio's city council approved the ordinance on Thursday, which some have said could set an example for cities like Austin.

"We're definitely going to lose money [if something like that were passed in Austin] because that's a portion of the population that's coming to buy stuff," Smoke N Chill manager Robert Banister said.

Nearly 35 to 40 percent of the people who buy tobacco products from his store in East Austin are between the ages of 18 and 21, according to Banister.

"That's almost half of what comes in. It's all small purchases, but sometimes they do, they come in and buy bigger things, but that's definitely going to cut into profits," he said.

But Austin Public Health Medical Director Dr. Phil Huang supports a law that would make it harder for teens to buy tobacco products like your old-fashioned cigarettes and trendy e-cigs.

"That period between 18 and 21 is where a lot of experimental tobacco use and smoking turns into actual consistent usage. Some 30-year-old doesn't wake up one morning and say, 'Hey, I want to start smoking cigarettes,'" Huang said.

Tobacco use remains the No. 1 preventable cause of death and disease in the U.S., Huang said, and 95 percent of smokers start by the age of 21.

"If you get them past that age, they don't really take it up. [But if you don't], then it becomes a life-long addiction," he said.

But even if there was a change in Austin's laws, Banister said 18 to 20-year-olds will still find a way to smoke tobacco.

"I started smoking when I was younger than that. Even restricting it age-wise isn't going to solve the issue," Banister said. "You can try to make it harder, but overall, they're still going to try to get their hands on it."

KVUE reached out to Mayor Steve Adler's office to find out whether an ordinance like this could soon make its way to Austin. A spokesperson said the issue hasn't come up at city hall.

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