The Texas House voted Tuesday to raise the legal smoking age from 18 to 21, except for military personnel.
Senate Bill 21 received preliminary approval from the lower chamber more than one month after the Senate approved a slightly different version of the legislation. The bill now awaits final approval in the House, which is usually a formality. Then the Senate will vote to either appoint a conference committee for the two chambers to iron out differences in the bill or accept the House's changes and send the legislation to Gov. Greg Abbott.
Rep. John Zerwas, a physician who sponsored the legislation, said the measure would protect young adults who are"highly susceptible" to an addiction to tobacco products.
"The idea behind this bill is essentially to move that risk away from those people that are most susceptible to it," said Zerwas, a Republican from Richmond.
If the bill becomes law, Texas would become the 14th state to raise the legal tobacco purchasing age to 21 and the third to include military exemptions. The stricter age restriction would apply to tobacco products such as cigarettes, as well as e-cigarette products.
State Rep. Matt Schaefer, R-Tyler, added a floor amendment Tuesday that broadens the bill's military exception to allow all members of the military over the age of 18 with a valid military ID to purchase tobacco. The bill previously only allowed members of the military on active duty with a valid ID.
Zerwas filed his own version of the bill earlier this year that did not include the exemption for military personnel. It passed unanimously out of the House Public Health Committee last month. With just two weeks left in the session, Zerwas opted to take up the Senate bill after the upper chamber approved it last month in a 20-11 vote.
State Rep. Briscoe Cain, R-Deer Park, also added an amendment that would preempt any changes to the Texas law by a local government, such as raising the minimum age.
A separate bill that would’ve placed a 10% sales tax on all e-cigarette and vapor products died in the House last week after state Rep. Jonathan Stickland, R-Bedford, employed a parliamentary maneuver known as a point of order against the bill.
Texas' moves on the tobacco age are in line with a national trend. Last month, representatives in both the U.S. House and Senate introduced legislation to raise the national purchase age for tobacco from 18 to 21. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and the tobacco industry have also expressed support for such legislation, though Politico reported last month that anti-tobacco advocates fear the efforts are a "Trojan horse" to block other, more proven measures to reduce youth smoking such as flavor bans and higher taxes on tobacco products.