Texas may become the third state in the country to raise the legal smoking age above 19-years-old.
Representative John Zerwas, a Fort Bend County Republican, is backing the bill authored by State Senator Carlos Uresti, a Democrat from San Antonio. Senate Bill 183 would raise the age to legally smoke or possess tobacco products from 18 to 21.
Both California and Hawaii have passed similar measures.
Similar legislation has been proposed multiple times in the past but has failed due to concerns over an infringement of civil liberties, loss of state sales tax and the potential to harm small businesses. Despite those failures, lawmakers say that new data has helped make their argument stronger than ever.
In December 2016, the Department of State Health Services released an analysis of the potential impact of raising the smoking age to 21. The analysis determined that raising the smoking age could reduce pre-term births by 4.3 percent over the first five years and 11.6 percent over the next 20 years. The report also states that the measure could reduce low birth-weight births by 4.1 percent over the first five years and 10.7 percent over the following 20 years.
According to the report, the state could save over $406 million in health care costs over the next five years and over $5.6 million over the next 25 years.
The report also stated that raising the smoking age would "result in a delayed use of such products, which in turn will decrease the prevalence of users. From a health perspective, the impacts of decreased prevalence would be short- and long-term. Reductions in tobacco-related diseases will take decades to realize, but there would be an immediate reduction in adverse physiological effects and poor infant health outcomes."
If the smoking age is raised, Texas would lose an estimated $97,147,000 in tax revenue over five years.
"It's kind of ironic that we're relying on 18,19, 20-year-olds to smoke so we can bring in $18 million, yet it's costing the state of Texas in the hundreds of millions of dollars for smoking-related illnesses," Sen. Uresti said.
Cory McCullough, who manages the Wizard Hut Smoke Shop, said his store will comply with whatever the law requires, but doesn't think it will deter anyone from smoking.
"If kids want to smoke, they're going to smoke," McCullough said. "If anybody wants to do anything, they're going to do it."
If the law is passed, the penalty for selling tobacco to anyone under the age of 21 would be a Class C Misdemeanor.