The Cost of Tobacco Use in Texas
The danger of tobacco use is by no means news to anybody nowadays, and yet it remains the #1 cause of preventable death in Texas. In Travis county alone, tobacco related causes accounted for 785 preventable deaths in 2013, more than alcohol, suicide, motor vehicle accidents, homicide, crack, heroin, cocaine, HIV/AIDS, and fire related causes combined.
The good news is tobacco use in Texas, and across the nation, has been in steady decline over the past few decades, but new tobacco products continue to make their way onto the market, meaning existing tobacco legislation must be updated. As a result, Texas laws pertaining to the sale, distribution, and consumption of tobacco and nicotine products have gone through some major changes. During the most recent Texas Legislative Session (held in January 2015), Senate Bill 97, also known as the Texas Cigarette, E-Cigarette, and Tobacco Products Law, was passed, making sale of cigarettes, e-cigarettes, or tobacco products to persons younger than 18 years of age illegal in Texas. Previously, there had been no laws restricting the sale of e-cigarettes (defined in Bill 97 as, “an electronic cigarette or any other device that simulates smoking by using a mechanical heating element, battery, or electronic circuit to deliver nicotine or other substances to the individual inhaling from the device”) to Texas minors. With the passing of Bill 97, that has changed, and other new tobacco laws may be on the horizon.
Currently, there is no statewide ban on the use of tobacco in public. However, according to Texas Penal Code 48.01, “A person commits an offense if the person is in possession of a burning tobacco product, smokes tobacco, or operates an e-cigarette in a facility of a public primary or secondary school or an elevator, enclosed theater or movie house, library, museum, hospital, transit system bus, intrastate bus, plane, or train which is a public place”. Notably, bars and restaurants are not on the list of spaces where smoking is banned. The state of Texas largely leaves the regulation of tobacco use in public to local governments, and most local governments do have some kind of public tobacco use ban.
Some local governments are moving to expand those smoking bans. For instance, in Austin, there has been a local push to ban the use of e-cigarettes in bars and restaurants, and to ban the use of both e-cigarettes and traditional cigarettes on outdoor patios. In Round Rock, the city council will soon vote on whether or not to completely ban the use of e-cigarettes in public. Nationally, The Food and Drug Administration just implemented a new rule requiring all tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, to undergo government review. With all of these new regulations and laws going into effect, it’s important to have a solid understanding of the way tobacco use impacts Texans on a daily basis.
According to americashealthrankings.org, 14.5% of Texas adults smoke on a regular basis, down from 20.5 % just 10 years ago. This decrease in the prevalence of smoking is a very positive sign, and essential for the overall health of Texas. But even with things moving in the right direction, the cost of tobacco use to Texans’ health is staggering. The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids compiled a list of sobering tobacco statistics that warrants some serious attention. They claim 28,000 Texas adults die every year from their own tobacco use, and that there are currently 498,000 Texas children who will die prematurely from smoking.
Not only does smoking take a serious toll on our state’s health, it is detrimental to the Texas economy as well. The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids goes on to list $8.85 billion as the annual healthcare cost in Texas directly caused by smoking, $1.96 billion as the Medicaid cost caused by smoking, and $8.22 billion as smoking-caused productivity losses. Ultimately, all of these costs result in each Texas household paying approximately $721 per year in state & federal tax burden from smoking-caused government expenditures.
When we talk about the health of our communities and the state at large, tobacco use needs to be a big part of the discussion. For the well-being of our communities, any tobacco user should strongly consider taking advantage of the many resources available to those trying to kick the addiction. MD Anderson Cancer Center has an extensive list of smoking cessation resources that can be found here, and anybody looking for some immediate support can call a quit smoking councilor at 1-800-QUIT-NOW. You can help make Texas, and the Texas economy, healthier right now by deciding to take tobacco out of your life.