Texas raises tobacco sales age to 21 to limit youth exposure and protect health

The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center applauds the Texas Legislature today for passing Senate Bill 21, which raises the minimum legal sale age for all tobacco products from 18 to 21. The policy, which will go into effect on September 1, 2019, is an important step toward protecting the health of future generations and reducing the burden of tobacco use in Texas.

The legislation was authored by Sen. Joan Huffman, with companion legislation authored by Rep. John Zerwas, M.D. in the House of Representatives. With passage of SB21 by the Legislature, Texas joins 13 other states and more than 450 cities and counties in raising the tobacco sale age to 21.

“By raising the tobacco sale age to 21, Texas joins a growing number of states and municipalities that have committed to limiting youth access to a variety of harmful, addictive tobacco products,” says Peter WT Pisters, M.D., president of MD Anderson. “We congratulate the Texas legislature for this monumental legislation, which will have profound impact for Texans. It will decrease tobacco usage in the years ahead, it will prevent electronic cigarettes from reaching our children and reduce the ravages of cancer, cardiovascular disease and lung disease for future generations.”

Despite significant success in lowering youth and adult smoking rates, tobacco use remains the leading cause of preventable death and disease in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, tobacco use claims an estimated 480,000 lives each year in the U.S., with 28,000 deaths in Texas alone.

Raising the tobacco sale age is intended to lower the future burden of tobacco use by limiting youth access to tobacco products. Approximately 95 percent of adult smokers began smoking before they were 21.

According to a report from the Health and Medicine Division of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine (formerly the Institute of Medicine), increasing the sale age for tobacco to 21 across the U.S. would reduce smoking and save lives. Future smoking rates would drop by an estimated 12 percent, with a corresponding 10 percent reduction in smoking-related deaths and nearly 250,000 lives saved.

“For every three young people prevented from using tobacco because of this law, there will be one fewer cancer-related death in the future,” said Ernest Hawk, M.D., vice president and division head of Cancer Prevention and Population Sciences. “That is a profound statistic that reinforces the significance of this action. More than any other single thing we can do, lowering tobacco use can save lives, and the evidence suggests this policy will help us toward our mission of eliminating cancer in Texas and beyond.”

Through collaborative efforts of MD Anderson’s EndTobacco® program, the Governmental Relations team and the Cancer Prevention and Population Sciences division, MD Anderson experts have served as clinical and scientific educational resources on this issue for state legislators. Similarly, MD Anderson has served as an educational resource for a statewide Texas 21 coalition of public health organizations.

EndTobacco is an initiative of the cancer prevention and control platform, part of MD Anderson's Moon Shots Program™, a collaborative effort to accelerate the development of scientific discoveries into clinical advances that save patients' lives.

In order to effectively make progress in reducing the effects of tobacco use, MD Anderson has adopted a comprehensive strategy, prioritizing a variety of programs that focus on policy, education and cessation services. More information about all these services is available at www.mdanderson.org/endtobacco.