Clearing the smoke around Senate Bill 21

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    Photo by Patrick Vitale

    On June 7, 2019, Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas signed into law a new bill, known as Senate Bill 21, which raised the purchasing and consumption age of tobacco and nicotine products to 21 years of age with an exemption for members of the military.

    This bill went into effect throughout the state of Texas on Sunday, Sept.1, and has already made itself felt on the University of Dallas campus, becoming a popular topic of conversation.

    Attention was drawn to SB 21 in an email to all undergraduate students from the UD administration on August 23, but confusion still abounds about the actual bill itself, what this bill states and what it actually means for the students of UD.

    In an interview with the Director of Student Affairs, Seth Oldham stated that “the university’s smoking policy has not yet changed” and that the prohibition of smoking in or 25 feet near a building remains the same, along with various other provisions already in the student handbook. 

    He also made it clear that “the new state law does not change those policies” the university still holds the same laws it did since the passing of SB 21. However, Oldham says the administration still encourages students to follow “all local, state, and federal laws.”

    So what does the so-called ‘smoking bill’ really say?

    Let’s clear the smoke and take a closer look at this change in the Health and Safety Code of Texas. SB 21 states that “individuals who are younger than 21 years of age commit an offense if the individual possesses, purchases, consumes, or accepts a cigarette, e-cigarette, or tobacco product.” The law change, according to Sen. Joan Huffman, one of the primary authors of the bill, was to prevent younger users from becoming easy victims of the tobacco industry and to prevent nicotine addiction in young people that might separate them from their peers.

    SB 21 also holds what is called a ‘grandfather clause’, a section that exempts a select few from the requirements of the bill. This clause exempts all members of the military, regardless of active status, from the legal demands of the bill. It also holds an exemption for all people born before the date of August 31, 2001. Those born before that date do not have to follow the new law on the purchase and consumption of tobacco.

    The meaning of this exemption has been hotly debated throughout Texas, with some interpretations holding that the clause covers only “the purchase or attempt to purchase” and others claiming that the clause allows those exempted to both purchase and consume tobacco products. However, this debate is now resolved because this exemption currently covers most of the underclassmen at UD, as nearly all of them were born before this date.

    No matter how it is worded, it is clear that the impact of SB 21 on UD has yet to be seen, as it has only been two weeks since it was passed.

    But how much will this Bill affect the lives of those on and around campus?

    A local business owner was interviewed to ask about the impact this bill might have on sales, but declined to comment on record. 

    UDPD was able to go more in-depth about the potential impact of SB 21 here at the University.

    “The impact on our students currently will be minimal at best, as they are all currently covered by the grandfather clause” said Officer Carlos Tijerina, in an interview on the new bill and its enforcement. 

    UDPD’s focus, as with many other UD departments, will be on future incoming students, who will not be covered by the clause.

    Tijerina says that when the time comes, all the departments of the university will be looking to find policies that fit the new smoking law and to reach a “campus-wide consensus.”

    In the meantime, the UDPD will be focusing as always in preventing crime and helping students feel safe on campus.  

    SB 21 has certainly reopened many conversations at the start of the fall semester, and debates will continue between students and administrators alike on what this bill means for the university. 

    The fact that SB 21 also bans vaping and e-cigarettes, as well as more traditional methods of tobacco consumption, is only a sign that the state of Texas is attempting to move with the times as vaping grows in popularity among young teenagers.

    In a recent study done by the Texas Department of State Health Services, it was found that one in three Texas young people have tried e-cigarettes, and teen vaping is now looking to become a national concern. 

    This past Wednesday, the Trump administration held a meeting to propose banning most flavored e-cigarettes, in an attempt to slow down e-cigarette consumption by young people.

    This was brought about after recent “startling reports of vaping-related respiratory illnesses, which now near 500 cases in nearly three dozen states and have possible links to six deaths” according to the New York Times. 

    The concern surrounding smoking has reached an all-time high around the country, and not even these modern replacements of vaping for older nicotine products have stopped the decline in the industry.

    Cigarette smoking is at a historic low, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and smoking in America is continuing to decline, despite the increase in cannabis and vape-related products.

    As of Aug. 12, 2019, eighteen states in the U.S. have raised their legal age to 21 for purchase and consumption of nicotine products, and many more states have been considering legislation to ban under-21 smoking.

    As Texas is the latest in this trend, UD students not from Texas can perhaps expect changes in their home state as well.  

    Regardless of what our nation decides, or the aesthetic surrounding smoking on campus, smokers and non-smokers alike must now be aware that when a student lights up and is underage, they are now breaking state law. 

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