Tis the Season

Texans Standing Tall Takes on D.C.

Last month, staff from Texans Standing Tall had the opportunity to travel to Washington D.C. to help spread the message of prevention! TST’s own Sachin Kamble and Atalie Nitibhon spent a week meeting with elected officials and representatives of many substance use and mental health organizations.

Atalie and Sachin at the offices of National Council for Behavioral Health.

One highlight of the week was a visit to the offices of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). Texans Standing Tall had the opportunity to speak with SAMHSA experts about prevention’s role in addressing behavioral health. Kana Enomoto, the Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary of SAMHSA, reaffirmed the importance of preventing alcohol and tobacco abuse.

Dr. Priscilla Clark, Deputy Director of the Center for Mental Health Services, and Kana Enomoto, Acting Deputy Assistance Secretary, from SAMHSA field questions regarding the current behavioral health system in the United States.

During the “Texas Tuesday Coffee” session, Sachin was able to meet Sen. Ted Cruz. Sachin shared his personal journey with his struggles with excessive alcohol use. Sachin discussed what Texans Standing Tall does in the state and the importance of prevention. The senator was very receptive and acknowledged the wide-ranging impact of substance abuse on Texas citizens.

Senator Cruz chats it up with TST’s own Sachin.

Atalie and Sachin also visited Rep. Lloyd Doggett’s office, where they met with his Health Legislative Aide Hannah Vogel to discuss substance use disorders and prevention as public health issues.

Health Legislative Aide Hannah Vogel (pictured far left) speaks to a group of representatives from various behavioral health organizations in Texas.

Overall, the trip was a valuable experience. If TST wants to change attitudes and behaviors toward youth substance use, advocacy at local, statewide, and national levels is essential.

Tis the Season

Update: Powdered Alcohol

Thanks to dedicated efforts from advocates across Texas, we came together and accomplished something important: we let policymakers know that powdered alcohol has no place in our state.

There’s still work left to do, and in the coming months, we’ll be calling on you to keep educating your family, friends, and elected officials about the importance of keeping this dangerous product off the shelves. But first, let’s look at what we were able to do when we worked together this session:

  • On February 28, TST brought together advocates from across the state for Advocacy Day at the Texas Capitol. After a morning of training, attendees visited their representatives’ offices to educate them on the dangers of powdered alcohol and ask them to ban the product.
  • In March, TST CEO Nicole Holt, along with coalition members from across the state, provided testimony on powdered alcohol before House and Senate committees. During the hearings, YLC member Andrea Marquez demonstrated how easy it would be for youth to conceal nearly 50 shots of alcohol in a makeup bag. See the video below for the same demonstration shared during TST’s Statewide Summit.
  • The Texas Tribune covered powdered alcohol and the committee hearings in a featured piece on their website.
  • TribTalk published op-eds about reasons for banning powdered alcohol from TST’s Sachin Kamble and YLC member Andrea Marquez.
  • Coalition members and other concerned citizens called and emailed their representatives to say that an outright ban of powdered alcohol is the safest path forward for our youth.
  • Powerful advocates and community leaders in Lufkin and College Station had editorials on banning powdered alcohol published in local papers.
  • Efforts to classify and regulate powdered alcohol as an alcoholic beverage died in the House and Senate.

And then this happened…

Towards the end of May, we saw that the label for Lt. Blender’s “Cheat-A-Rita” has been approved and it’s getting closer to the marketplace. Though we’ve made great strides, there are still businesses out there looking to make money by selling a dangerous product that poses a threat to the health and safety of our youth, even though there’s no demand for it.

Clearly, we have more work to do.

We will continue to monitor what’s happening with powdered alcohol in Texas and throughout the United States. Be sure to stay tuned and let us know how you want to be involved. Click the “Get Involved!” button below and let us know if you would like to:

  • Receive news and updates on powdered alcohol.
  • Contact your representatives about banning powdered alcohol.
  • Provide testimony on powdered alcohol during any interim hearings or the legislative session in 2019.
  • Write an op-ed or letter to the editor for the paper in your community.
  • Participate in a powdered alcohol workgroup.

Get Involved!

Thanks for your continued support and advocacy efforts!

85th_Leg_Blog11217

Tobacco 21: What It Is and What’s Happening in Texas

by: Christi Koenig Brisky, Esq.

The Tobacco21 movement has made its way to Texas after a whirlwind policy shift across the United States. In both the House and the Senate, lawmakers have filed bills that would prohibit the sale of cigarettes, e-cigarettes, and other tobacco products to anyone under the age of 21. If passed, the bills would 1) criminalize the possession of tobacco products to anyone under 21, and 2) charge anyone found guilty of selling to underage youth with a Class C Misdemeanor, which could result in a $500 fine. These bills have crossed partisan lines, with Republicans and Democrats co-authoring Tobacco21 bills in the Texas legislature.

Tobacco21 is a public health movement most accurately summarized by its social media hashtag: #raisetheage. Those in favor of raising the legal purchase age of tobacco 21 believe it would reduce the most commonly seen form of underage tobacco purchasing: the social purchase of tobacco for underage users by someone 18 or older. Approximately 86% of students report that they obtain their cigarettes from social sources, with research showing that 15-17 year olds obtain cigarettes through social sources 86% of the time and e-cigarettes through social sources 89% of the time.  The Institute of Medicine estimated that if the minimum legal age were increased to 21, it would reduce smoking initiation among 15-17 year olds by approximately 25%. Anecdotally, Needham, Massachusetts, the first city in the United States to increase the tobacco sales age to 21, saw tobacco use rates among high school students decrease by almost 50%, with frequent tobacco use decreasing by 62%.

The vast majority of states in the country have set the legal smoking age at 18. Four states (Alabama, Alaska, New Jersey, and Utah) have adopted a minimum legal smoking age of 19. Even more states have considered—and failed to pass—statutes increasing the legal smoking age, despite significant popular support across party lines.

Despite some pushback from both the tobacco industry and political operatives, this movement has made incredible legislative strides since 2014. Over the past two years, two states—California and Hawaii— and over two hundred cities and counties across the country have passed ordinances to raise the legal minimum age for sale of all tobacco and nicotine products from 18 to 21. This is not just a state issue; U.S. Senator Brian Schatz and nine co-sponsors introduced legislation to raise the age to 21 nationwide for purchase of any tobacco product, including cigarettes, cigars, chewing tobacco, and as of 2016, vaping products. Although it ultimately died in Committee, this attempt was an important milestone for the Tobacco21 movement.

Tobacco21 does not just affect 90% of smokers who started smoking by age 20; it also affects the overall public health of our country as a whole. The Institute of Medicine reported that by raising the age, it would reduce premature deaths by almost 223,000 and lung cancer deaths by 50,000. The conservative estimate is that Tobacco21 would also prevent 4.2 million years of life lost to smoking in youth alive today.

Tobacco doesn’t just cost us lives. Both individually and nationwide, smoking has a pretty hefty price tag. Nationwide, smoking costs each taxpaying household about $951 per year.  In Texas alone, it causes financial bleeding to the tune of about $17.1 billion in total annual health care expenditures caused by tobacco-related diseases. Secondhand smoke exposure is associated with an estimated $6.03 billion in annual health care expenditures, nationwide. That’s right—smoking costs you money even if you don’t actually smoke yourself. What’s more, for every one Texan who quits smoking, there is a five-year savings of $7,027 in medical costs and lost productivity.

These are issues that directly affect Texans, and we will continue to follow the Tobacco 21 movement in our state and across the country. In the meantime, we encourage you to register for our Summit on May 1 – 2, 2017 to learn more about this and other tobacco issues in Texas. Visit www.TexansStandingTall.org to register.