Texas raises age to purchase tobacco to 21

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) on Friday signed a bill into law raising the minimum age to purchase tobacco products in the state from 18 to 21.

Texas joins more than a dozen states that have raised the age to purchase tobacco to 21, including California, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Oregon, Utah, Vermont, Washington, Arkansas and Virginia, according to the American Lung Association.

The law goes into effect Sept. 1 and it exempts members of the military. Violations will result in a Class C misdemeanor and a fine of up to $500, ABC News 13 reported.

Texas state Rep. John Zerwas (R), who is also a physician, said reducing tobacco use in Texas will pay "tremendous dividends by preventing diseases that cost the most to treat."

“As a physician, the health-related importance of this proposed legislation can't be denied," Zerwas said in a March press release. "As chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, I'd also like to point out that Tobacco 21 isn't just responsible public health policy, but it's also fiscally responsible for the State of Texas."

 Zerwas said smoking costs the state $8.85 billion annually in direct health care costs.

The bill’s advocates argue 95 percent of people who smoke start before the age of 21, according to the Food and Drug Administration.

The regulation comes as e-cigarettes and vaping have become increasingly popular among American teens and young adults. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) introduced bipartisan legislation last month to raise the federal minimum age to purchase tobacco from 18 to 21, despite their states' tobacco industries.

"We're proud of our past, and we're proud of who we are, but Kentucky farmers don't want their children to get hooked on tobacco products while they're in middle or high school any more than any parents anywhere want that to happen," McConnell said on the Senate floor May 20.

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