07-09 smoking-01

A customer purchases a carton of cigarettes from Loretta Shelton at Andy's Tobacco Warehouse in Palestine. A law signed last month will make it illegal for anyone under 21 to purchase tobacco products in Texas.

State officials hope that, starting this fall, fewer Texans under 21 will light up.

Effective Sept. 1, no one under 21 will be able to legally buy tobacco products in Texas, including electronic cigarettes and vaping devices.

Local retailers are divided on whether the change will discourage teen-age smoking.

“They should just leave it alone,” Ashley Polk, manager of Andy's Tobacco Warehouse in Palestine, told the Herald-Press Monday. “Having to be 21 to drink doesn't stop them; this won't stop the teenagers who want to smoke, either.”

Buying smokes, or purchasing them for anyone under 21, will constitute a class a “C” misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of up to $500.

Texas joins more than a dozen states with similar bans, including Arkansas, California, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Oregon, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, and Washington,

“It probably won't effect sales much,” Polk said, arguing underage smokers in Texas will have their older friends purchase tobacco products for them.

Polk, 40, smoked for 25 years, before switching to vaping for her health.

“It wouldn't have stopped me when I started,” she said. “Raising the age won't stop any teenager out there. If I thought for one minute it would truly benefit people's health, I'd be behind it.”

The U.S. surgeon general reports most smokers pick up the habit by 18. Nicotine addiction kills more than 1,200 people a day.

DeeDee Hollingsworth, 54, a smoker of 37 years, said the new law might deter some teen-agers. “I'd be interested to see the data they collect on it in a few years to see if it really helps with public health,” she said.

Rick Virani, owner of Jag's gas station and convenience store, fully supports the new law. “I truly think it will help teenagers, and the public health,” Virani, 53, told the Herald-Press. “Just like with drinking, 21 is the perfect age for tobacco.”

Virani doesn't worry about less business, either. “It will slow down the tide of teenagers coming in,” he said. “It won't effect my business at all. Look at CVS – they stopped selling tobacco and it didn't hurt them in the slightest.”

CVS pharmacies stopped selling tobacco five years ago in the company's nearly 10,000 U.S. stores. Profits at CVS didn't drop, company officials reported. Polling data also suggest some CVS customers quit smoking.

Virani blamed cultural norms for the number of young U.S. smokers.

“In India, there is no age-restriction on tobacco, but there aren't as many young smokers,” he said. “Parents are very strict in India. Children do what they are told, even after they turn 18. Neither children nor parents are like that here.”

The law, signed by Gov. Greg Abbott last month, excludes military personnel. All tobacco and nicotine products are covered by the new law. E-cigarettes and vaping devices also contain nicotine, albeit in smaller amounts than traditional cigarettes.

Scientists at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said e-cigarettes have driven up tobacco use by high school students more than cigarettes or other tobacco products. Between 2017 and 2018, they report, tobacco use via electronic devices rose more than 38 percent.

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