Last week, San Antonio Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Richard Perez and immediate past Chair of the Board Rad Weaver testified in support of raising the legal age to purchase tobacco products from 18 to 21. Passing by a vote of 9 to 2, San Antonio became the first city in Texas to pass such an ordinance, joining more than 270 municipalities across the country that have done so in recent years.
One of Rad’s priorities during his tenure as chair included a focus on wellness. The rate of tobacco use among high school students has increased, largely due to the abundant availability of nicotine-delivery products, including electronic cigarettes. A 2015 Institute of Medicine study reported that raising the age to purchase tobacco products to 21 nationwide would result in a 25% drop in youth smoking initiation, a 12% drop in overall smoking rates, and 16,000 cases of preterm birth and low birth weight averted in the first five years of the policy. Additionally, the American Lung Association estimates that each pack of cigarettes consumed costs our society $18.05 in increased health care and work-related expenditures. The Healthcare and Biosciences Committee, Senior Enlisted Advisory Committee, and Military Affairs Council of the Chamber have all been supportive of Tobacco 21 as it directly impacts the health of our community.
Metro Health’s Sanitarians will be responsible for the enforcement of the ordinance, going into effect on October 1, 2018. There will be a two-month signage and training period for retailers beginning August 1. Beginning in October, the penalty for the sale of tobacco products to someone under 21 years of age is a maximum fine of $500, which will be collected by the General Fund.
Five states in the country have passed similar laws, and there was an effort in the 85th Texas Legislature in 2017 to do so, where it passed out of committee but did not get scheduled for a floor vote.