San Antonio becomes first city in Texas to raise legal age to buy tobacco to 21
Updated 1:28 pm, Thursday, January 11, 2018
San Antonio City Council today approved a new law prohibiting merchants in the city limits from selling tobacco products to anyone under 21 years old.
San Antonio is the first city in Texas to enact such a law. Five states and more than 280 cities in other states have approved similar measures.
The new ordinance, which city officials had been discussing since August, passed by a 9 to 2 vote. Council members Greg Brockhouse and Clayton Perry voted against the measure, questioning if the city should regulate such activity and expressing concerns that the new rules might financially harm smaller businesses.
In one last-minute change, San Antonio Metropolitan Health District Director Colleen Bridger said the new law will take effect Oct. 1 instead of Aug. 1 as originally planned. This will allow San Antonio officials additional time to talk to surrounding cities, such as Leon Valley, about whether they plan to enact similar measures.
Several council members criticized Bridger for not getting more input from merchants or meeting with retailers’ organizations sooner in the process. Bridger said she had worked to do that in recent months, even meeting with two merchants’ groups late Wednesday.
Brockhouse and Perry pushed for tabling the proposed law. Brockhouse called for more input to be gathered in the next 60 days from retailers whose businesses could be negatively impacted by the new rules before council voted on the issue. Those attempted delays failed.
State law already forbids the sale of tobacco products to anyone 17 years old or younger. It also prohibits anyone that young from purchasing or possessing such items. But San Antonio's new city ordinance goes further.
The ordinance approved by council today only targets retailers who sell tobacco products to 18-, 19- or 20-year-olds. Retailers who violate the new law could face a fine of up to $500.
The new city law does not seek any penalties or enforcement measures against young adults 18 to 20 years old who purchase, use or possess tobacco products.
Supporters said the measure is necessary to protect public health. Critics called it heavy-handed government regulation and said it will penalize businesses, particularly smaller retailers who could see their profits eroded by the new law.
Before the vote, council heard from more than 30 citizens expressing their views on the proposal. Most of them — including physicians, high school students and teen ambassadors — expressed support for the measure.