SPH researcher finds all positives in new Texas over 21 smoking law

By Sally Crocker

Tracey Web
Tracey Barnett, PhD

Like the significant impact seen with age 21 drinking laws, states like Texas now have an opportunity to make a big difference in keeping other harmful substances out of the hands of teens, says a UNT Health Science Center public health researcher.

Tracey Barnett, PhD, Associate Professor and Associate Dean for Academic Affairs at the UNTHSC School of Public Health, sees all positives in the new Texas law that raises the minimum legal age from 18 to 21 for the purchase of cigarettes, e-cigarettes and tobacco products. The law took effect Sept. 1.

Dr. Barnett has long been involved in tobacco research and in educating the community about the dangers of smoking, vaping and e-cigarette use. The new law will be an important step in moving tobacco-related products out of high schools, she said.

“In just two months recently, from late June to late August, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has reported 193 hospitalizations across the country and one death from mysterious lung illnesses related to vaping,” she said. “Far too many younger high-school, and even middle-school age students have found access to vape products through older students who were able to buy them legally. This law will be important in helping to protect our kids from harm.”

The CDC cites tobacco use as a leading cause of preventable disease, disability and death in the United States, with about 4.7 million middle and high school students using at least one tobacco product, including e-cigarettes.

With the new law, people who attempt to buy these products for someone underage can face charges and a fine up to $500.

“Most likely, though, the focus won’t be as much on individuals as the places and outlets doing the selling,” Dr. Barnett said. “The biggest challenge will be holding online retailers accountable and strengthening internet protections around these types of sales to minors.”

While there might be a quick uptick in sales related to stocking up and hoarding products, Texas over time should see a drop in underage cigarette and e-cigarette use, Dr. Barnett predicts, along with the benefits of a healthier population that never starts or develops tobacco addictions.

“States saw significant declines in alcohol-related deaths, illness, motor vehicle accidents, crimes and related consequences when the drinking age changed from 18 to 21, and the new smoking ban should similarly help Texas achieve positive results with tobacco-related public health concerns,” Dr. Barnett said.

Is the new plan perfect?

“Just like most public health problems, there is often no single solution,” Dr. Barnett said. “Determined underage kids have always found ways, through friends and other means, to get illegal substances, but with time to take effect, the new law should definitely help Texas make progress in the right direction.”

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