Texas is getting tougher on youthful smoking thanks to a recently passed and implemented increase in the legal smoking age from 18 to 21.
While it is a positive way to prevent younger people from adopting the smoking habit, criminal defense lawyers are finding many arguments suggesting that the new law is not easily enforceable.
Even though the change was developed to reduce access to cigarettes to at least 21 year of age, lawyers, legislators, and many others question whether the fines and other penalties will actually thwart the sale of cigarettes to those under 21.
New Legislature on Underage Smoking in Texas
In April of 2019, Texas lawmakers passed SB 21, an Act that raised the legal age limit for buying and using cigarettes including e-cigarettes to 21 years of age.
Retailers selling tobacco or e-cigarettes to anyone under the age of 21 can face fines of $1,000 per incident and the possibility of having their permits allowing tobacco sales suspended or revoked according to defense lawyers, while minors caught smoking can be fined $100.
Can Smoking Laws Be Enforced?
While this may seem a positive step toward eradicating youth under the age of 21 from smoking, many including criminal defense lawyers suggest it’s not enforceable as the law prior to this change was already difficult to enforce.
Criticism of the rule change comes not against the change itself but against what many feel is an unrealistic reliance on inspections as enforcement to curb tobacco sales to minors based on the fact that of the 30,000+ tobacco retailers in Texas, fewer than half are being inspected for compliance.
Lack of Resources Cited As the Main Problem
The youth smoking argument goes on to say that while lawmakers fought to raise the legal smoking age to 21, the state cut in half its tobacco public prevention awareness funding on the dangers of youth smoking, which included print, TV ads, radio ads, social media, and other methods.
Police grants provided by the Department of Health were also discontinued at the same time.
These restrictions in funding were based on the opinion that enforcement through inspections will be enough to prevent youthful smoking and that a public awareness campaign was ineffective.
Those opposed to this action including criminal defense attorneys point out that inspections haven’t prevented youth from smoking in the past, mainly due to the lack of inspections actually taking place.
In direct contrast, it was also suggested that the public awareness campaign was the prevention tactic that has actually done the most to prevent youth smoking as it served as a constant reminder to retailers that they could have a surprise inspection at any time.
New Tobacco Law A Positive Step Only If Enforced
In summary, though some Texas legislators fought to have the legal smoking age raised to 21 years, there is much opposition from others as to whether this change will actually do anything.
The main argument claims that reliance on inspections for enforcement was not enough in the past and will still not be enough.
Legislators also do not meet eye-to-eye on the validity of cutting the state tobacco prevention budget and other enforcement funding with two completely opposing opinions on the effectiveness of such campaigns.
Experienced criminal defense attorneys point out that without proper enforcement and awareness, will raising the legal age to smoke actually succeed? Only time will tell!
Reynaldo Garza, III - Attorney at Law
680 East St. Charles St, Suite 600
Brownsville TX 78520