Everett Mason has been using vape pens since he was about 16 years old.
Now, the 18-year-old Hewitt resident will have to wait another three years before he can legally buy tobacco products, including his e-cigarettes, in the state of Texas.
“I really don’t think it’s going to change anything,” Mason said. “People are still going to smoke. It really isn’t going to matter.”
The new state law takes effect Sunday, along with more than 800 others recently passed. It raises the legal age from 18 to 21 for the sale, distribution, possession, purchase, consumption or receipt of cigarettes, e-cigarettes, dip or any other tobacco products. According to the anti-smoking coalition website texas21.org, about 95% of smokers start before the age of 21.
E-cigarettes have been the most commonly used tobacco product among youth since 2014, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services. Last year, 20.8% of high school students surveyed in the United States reported using e-cigarettes in the past 30 days, a 9.1% increase from the previous year, according to the department.
“I don’t think I’m going to quit, but honestly I don’t think it’s fair,” Mason said of the law. “It is just now come up because of the school situation and that’s why they are changing it.”
Though e-cigarette use has grown among high school students, smoking overall is declining.
Locally, 20.1% of Waco adults reported smoking, according to 2016 data collected by City Health Dashboard. In 2015, 21.4% of Waco adults reported smoking, according to the service.
“The overall trend throughout the United States, including in Waco, is that less people are smoking,” said Kelly Craine, spokesperson for the Waco-McLennan County Public Health District.
The city of Waco banned smoking in bars, restaurants and other enclosed public spaces with an ordinance passed in 2015.
“Throughout the country, smoking rates have dramatically dropped for the past 20 years for a variety of reasons,” Craine said. “Education, smoking ordinances, businesses having no smoking within their offices makes a big difference, so there are plenty of businesses that have smoke-free campuses on their properties, so that has changed a lot of things.”
Texas is at least the 16th state to make 21 the minimum age for tobacco. Arkansas, California, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Utah, Vermont, Virginia and Washington, along with 450 cities and counties, have made 21 the minimum tobacco age, according to texas21.org.
According to the Texas Tribune, tobacco law enforcement efforts can be costly. Texas lawmakers allocated about $9.5 million in this year’s budget to reduce the use of tobacco products across the state — about $3 million more than the last budget — but that money is largely dedicated to prevention and education rather than enforcement, the Tribune reported.
Craine said the new age restriction may help by limiting the number of opportunities younger Texans have to smoke.