Texas House Votes to Raise Legal Smoking Age to 21, Including E-Cigarettes

The state of Texas moved one step closer Tuesday to raising its legal smoking age to 21. Like most states, its current legal age to purchase tobacco products is 18. The state Senate had already approved an earlier version of the bill, but the House made some revisions before passing a preliminary version.

The House of Representatives must pass a final version before it gets one more stamp of approval from the Senate, which is likely just a formality. Once it passes both chambers, Senate Bill 21 will be sent to the desk of Gov. Greg Abbott.

Military members stationed in the Lone Star State would be exempt from the law once it goes into effect. The bill not only includes tobacco products; it would also apply to e-cigarette products.

Rep. John Zerwas, a physician from the greater Houston area, sponsored the legislation. He said young adults typically get addicted to tobacco products — including electronic versions — and that this bill was meant to protect the younger generation.

"The idea behind this bill is essentially to move that risk away from those people that are most susceptible to it," Zerwas said told the Texas Tribune.

Should the bill become law, Texas would become the 14th state to raise its smoking and tobacco age to 21, and the third to exempt military members who have a valid military ID card.

Republican Rep. Matt Schaefer of Tyler was the House member who added the military amendment that stated all military members over 18 — not just those on active duty — would be exempt.

The most recent state to pass a law raising the age of purchasing tobacco to 21 was Utah. That law won't go into effect until July 1, 2021. Of the 13 states that have already passed similar laws, only six of them are currently in effect while the other seven have effective dates coming soon, according to tobaccofreekids.org.

In addition to the states who have raised the age to 21, several states have municipalities or "locales" that have already implemented the same measures on a local level. Texas has three in Kirby, Leon Valley and San Antonio.

A similar, but separate, bill in Texas proposed placing a 10 percent sales tax on vapor products and other e-cigarette items, but that bill died in the on the House floor.

If passed, Texas would become only the second Sun Belt to pass a law making 21 the age to purchase tobacco products, Arkansas is the other.