WAXAHACHIE

The age limit didn’t stop Deborah Richard from purchasing cigarettes before she turned 18. She doesn’t think it will prevent teenagers from buying them now – even if the age limit is raised to 21.

House Bill 749, sponsored by State Rep. John Zerwas, would effectively prohibit the sale of tobacco products to Texans younger than 21. It would also increase the age limit for proof of identification from 27 to 30, according to the bill.

A Daily Light Facebook poll with 499 participants showed that 75 percent of respondents favor increasing the age limit for tobacco purchases. Resident Suzie Thomas was one of the respondents against the proposal, stating that if you’re old enough to vote, you should also be old enough to buy cigarettes.

"Might as well not let 16-year-olds drive while we’re at it," Thomas added. "So what age do we feel humans become adults now?"

Resident Corky McLean, meanwhile, voiced his support of the measure, rationalizing that “allowing more time is never a bad thing.”

"Cigarettes kill hundreds of thousands of people every year," McLean remarked. "What would be the problem with making it just a little harder for school-aged children to get ahold of tobacco products?"

Resident David Stembridge voiced his outright disdain towards all tobacco products in general.

"I would say completely make it illegal since it's so deadly," Stembridge commented. "How it's legal and marijuana is illegal baffles me."

Ten states have already voted to raise their tobacco sales ages to 21, according to a Texas 21 Coalition press release, as well as at least 440 cities and counties — including San Antonio, Leon Valley and Kirby in Texas.

The bill passed the Texas House Public Health Committee last week, which State Rep. John Wray serves as vice chair, while its Senate equivalent SB 21, passed the State Affairs committee on Monday. Impact Communities DFC Program Manager Shari Phillips praised the passage of both bills, stating that the goal of preventing these dangerous habits is to catch them early during individuals’ teenage years.

“There are school districts in Ellis County that are dealing with these tobacco products like the Juuls, E-cigs and vapes that are coming into their schools,” Phillips iterated. “By raising the legal age to 21, there’s less likely to be somebody in high school that brings it on campus and expose their younger peers to it.”

However, many residents don’t feel the same about the bill as other advocates do. Richard, for instance, pointed out that the drinking age is already 21 in the state of Texas – but that doesn’t stop several minors from engaging in underage drinking.

“I don’t think raising the age limit is going to deter an 18-year-old from getting cigarettes if they wanted them in the first place,” Richard expressed. “The idea of it is great, but if they wanted it bad enough, they’re going to do it regardless of what the age limit is.”

Resident Julia Cisneros, meanwhile, believes the government shouldn’t micro-manage an individuals’ life — even if it is in the best interests.

“As a nurse, I like it,” she expressed. “Do I think anybody should be smoking? No. But it’s a matter of personal decision-making; 18-year-olds are able to do a lot of things. I’m not sure just eliminating one thing is the answer to that.”

Ennis resident David Shubert said he bought his first package of cigarettes when he turned 18, and he recalled being very eager to purchase them at his young age.

“I couldn’t wait until I was 18 to buy them,” Shubert recalled. “At the time, I was very interested in a female that smoked. I was a year older than her so she couldn’t buy them either. But she managed to get them anyway.”

When he was younger, Shubert explained that he only smoked under two occasions – if he was driving or if he was drinking.

“Back in the ’70s, I was pretty much drunk that whole decade,” he chuckled.

There have been three instances in his life where he had smoked a whole pack in one day. On one of those occasions, he was living in Canada and one of his closest friends lived in Texas at the time when she had faced some terrible news.

“Her birthday present was finding out that a girl she grew up with killed herself,” Shubert recalled. “I was worried about her. I was driving through the airport and back to buy her a round-trip ticket to come up and spend some time with me. When she left, I asked her if she thought about killing herself. She said ‘I don’t know. You didn’t give me a chance.’”

Shubert said that was the only time he had smoked one pack of cigarettes in "under an hour." As unhealthy as it was, Shubert said it calmed his nerves and helped him to think straight.

“I was never a heavy smoker,” he iterated. “But that was a unique situation.”

Although he doesn’t advocate for people to smoke young, he acknowledged that it is the individual’s decision and he wouldn’t encourage restricting somebody’s personal rights.

Claudia Rodas, however, has other feelings on the matter. As the Southern Region Director for the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, Rodas has been involved in Tobacco prevention for over 15 years, since 2004.

She iterated that approximately 95 percent of smokers begin smoking before the age of 21. According to a Texas 21 Coalition press release, 7.4 percent of high school students smoke, while over 10 percent use e-cigarettes. Approximately 10,400 kids become daily smokers every year, and nearly half a million Texas children are anticipated to die prematurely from smoking.

Rodas stated that if this legislation means saving lives, it’s a cause worth fighting for.

“If we are able to raise that age, create bigger social circles, make it harder for you to get access to these dangerous tobacco products, we know in the long term we will see usage decrease,” Rodas stated. “We’re trying to save lives. We’re trying to prevent youth from ever starting these deadly habits.”

With widespread bipartisan support in the Texas Legislation as well as being among the legislative priorities of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, Rodas stated she’s confident HB 749 will pass and will be signed into law prior to the legislative session’s conclusion on May 27.

However, Shubert wonders if the bill is worth the potential benefits – or is even fitting at all for the state of Texas.

“If 18 is old enough to go into the service and die for your country, you should at least be able to smoke when you’re doing it,” Shubert remarked.

HB 749 is currently awaiting a vote on the House floor. If passed, HB 749 would go into effect Sept. 1.