Lawmakers in Austin are considering legislation to increase the minimum age to legally buy tobacco products in Texas from 18 to 21, and at least one e-cigarette company says it agrees. JUUL Labs confirmed it took out an ad in The Dallas Morning News Tuesday in support of raising the minimum purchase age of tobacco products.
The company positions itself as an alternative to regular cigarettes and said, "We are committed to preventing youth access to our products because no young person or non-nicotine user should ever try JUUL."
The move comes as the Texas PTA calls raising the minimum tobacco purchase age a priority this legislative session.
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"As a parent walking around, the kids who are vaping, you can see it," Plano ISD Council of PTAs president Kelley Thomas said. "You're looking at it as you're going to the mall, as you’re going to the grocery store."
Thomas said while the risk of smoking cigarettes is well known and documented, she said she believed e-cigarettes were a new frontier.
"It smells good and tastes good, so they're all excited about it right now. They think it's kind of cool," Thomas said.
She added younger students may be more vulnerable to the introduction of tobacco products by older students who could legally purchase them.
"Twenty-one takes the access away from our younger students, it builds a social wedge," Thomas added.
A coalition of healthcare groups and nonprofits called Texas 21 are part of the push to change the legal smoking age.
"Bottom line: it is a public health issue," said Dr. Phil Huang, Dallas County Health and Human Services director.
Huang said tobacco was still the top preventable cause of death and disease in the United States and the difference between someone picking up smoking at 18 or 21 may come down to habit.
"It is during youth that behavior gets started and between the age of 18 and 21 is when it goes from experimental to really regular uses," Huang said.
"People forget how tobacco is still a problem. Maybe the people around them don't use tobacco, but still it is an even higher burden in some of the lower socioeconomic groups," he added.
But some question the effectiveness of raising the minimum smoking age.
"If you're going to take the right for an adult person to make a decision for their own health, their own body, their own life, then at what point do you stop?" asked Deeanna Rosenbaum, a McKinney parent.
Rosenbaum, who is a non-smoker, said she’s pushing for other priorities in schools -- particularly requiring metal detectors at all entrances. She said schools already prohibit tobacco products and metal detectors may prevent some from getting into schools.
"Going into massive amounts of debt purchasing a gun, having children, getting married, joining the military. There are so many decisions that kids can make at age 18, why pick on one in particular?" Rosenbaum said.
Read JUUL Labs' full statement on the effort to raise the age to buy tobacco in Texas:
“We are committed to preventing youth access of JUUL products, and no young person or non-nicotine user should ever try JUUL. We cannot fulfill our mission to provide the world’s one billion adult smokers with a true alternative to combustible cigarettes if youth use continues unabated.
Tobacco 21 laws have been shown to dramatically reduce youth smoking rates, which is why we strongly support raising the minimum purchase age for all tobacco products, including vaping products like JUUL, to 21 in Texas. Our secure website, JUUL.com, already requires all purchasers to be 21 and over. We look forward to working with policymakers at the federal, state and local levels to achieve Tobacco 21.”