Bill to Raise Texas' Smoking Age Stalls after Lawmakers Realize Fewer People Would Buy Cigarettes
At the end of January, state Senator Carlos Uresti, a San Antonio Democrat, quietly filed a bill that would lift the legal age to smoke or possess cigarettes, or any other tobacco product, from 18 to 21.
"If we are serious about stemming the epidemic of tobacco-related diseases and the misery they cause, we must steer people away from the potentially devastating choice of addiction," Uresti said at the time. "This bill recognizes and takes advantage of a simple fact. The later one tries that first cigarette, the less likely they are to become a lifetime user."
There is a very strong libertarian argument against the bill (e.g. that 18-year-olds are adults and can do whatever the hell they want), but that's not what stalled it during a hearing Tuesday morning. Rather, as the Morning News' Robert Garrett reports, it was because it would cost the state quite a sizable chunk of tax revenue.
The state comptroller's office estimates that raising the smoking age to 21 would result in a third fewer 18- to 20-year-olds using tobacco products. But that would also mean less money flowing into state coffers to the tune of $20 million per year, according to an estimate by the Legislative Budget Board, which analyzes the fiscal impact of proposed legislation.
Forfeiting that kind of cash for a progressive public health measure is a non-starter in an already cash-strapped Legislature, which is why Uresti requested consideration of his bill be delayed.
On his blog, Democratic political consultant Harold Cook points out the glaring irony in all this that "Uresti's bill has stalled because the Comptroller says the bill will accomplish exactly what Uresti hopes it will -- prevent a lot of young people from smoking."
But again, these are legally adults. Maybe the Legislature can split the baby here: raise the smoking age, lower the drinking age, and call it a wash.