The Texas Senate voted in favor of Bill 21 Tuesday that would raise the state’s legal age to buy and use tobacco products from 18 to 21 after an amendment was added to exempt active military members from the new age restriction.
The bill’s sponsor Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston) amended her own legislation to exempt active military members after receiving pushback from some Republicans who argued the law denied young adults who enlist in the military the freedom to choose to use tobacco products, The Dallas Morning News reported.
Active U.S. military or state military force members between the ages of 18 and 20 will be permitted to purchase tobacco products if they present valid military identification, according to the revised bill.
The amendment allowed Huffman to secure more than the 19 votes required in the 31-member body to approve the proposed legislation. The revised version of Bill 21 passed the state Senate 20-11 without debate and will be sent to the House for approval.
"I want to thank Sen. Huffman for passing this important legislation for the children of Texas. Senate Bill 21 will save lives and is an investment in Texas' future,” Texas’ Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said in a statement. "Increasing the age to purchase tobacco products in Texas to 21 will not only improve public health and save countless lives, it will save Texans billions of dollars in health care costs."
Texas 21, a coalition of groups that supports raising the legal age for tobacco products to 21, opposed the military service member amendment to Bill 21.
“Texas 21 will be working with legislators to help them understand the importance of including the military in tobacco 21 legislation,” Claudia Rodas of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids told The Dallas Morning News. “Our goal is a tobacco 21 law that protects all young Texans, including those who are willing to die to protect our country.”
Huffman recognized the coalition’s concern but said the law would be impractical for military members who have to move across state lines. The state senator recognized the importance of the legislation to protect young Texans from developing deadly smoking habits.
"While I understand it's still an issue in the military, these individuals are often required to move across state lines," Huffman told WFAA, adding she wanted to avoid any confusion.
"Ninety-five percent, 95 percent of adult smokers, begin smoking before they turn 21," Huffman told WFAA. "Even more astounding is that three-quarters of adult smokers tried their first cigarette before the age of 18."