On Jan. 10, 2017 Texas legislators convened in Austin for the start of the 85th legislative session. For the next 140 days (give or take a few), our state’s lawmaking body will work to enact laws that provide for the health and general well-being of the citizens of Texas until they meet again in 2019.
In Texas, the Legislature is only required to do one thing: pass a balanced budget for 2018-2019. Given that state officials have already asked state agencies to cut their budget requests and the State Comptroller announced a 2.7% decrease in the budget estimate on Monday, we anticipate that prevention funding will face some challenges this session. Even with limited money, legislators have made it clear that there are a number of issues they will focus on in the upcoming session. Among other things, child protective services, school finance, and mental health are all key issues that will receive attention during the 85th Legislature.
At Texans Standing Tall, we’ll be following the session to ensure we stay up-to-date on issues related to keeping our state’s youth safe and healthy. As an organization focused primarily on youth substance use prevention, there are four topics we’ll be watching closely this session:
- Powdered Alcohol (Palcohol). Essentially, powdered alcohol is exactly what it sounds like – alcohol in powdered form. The product is concerning for a number of reasons, namely because it is the type of product that is appealing to youth (it’s described as looking like Tang or Kool-Aid) and it can be easily concealed, misused, or over consumed. More than 30 states have already banned powdered alcohol, and the American Medical Association (AMA) announced that it supports state and federal laws banning powdered alcohol in the United States because the product could “cause serious harm to minors.” The House Licensing and Administrative Procedures Committee held a hearing on powdered alcohol on August 23, 2016, where TST provided testimony. However, they have yet to issue a final report on the topic. TST will continue to follow what happens at the Capitol so it can educate decision makers and the public about its concerns related to the product. In the meantime, you can learn more about powdered alcohol here.
- Alcohol Excise Taxes. Increasing alcohol excise taxes saves lives and raises money for the state. Excise tax funds are a significant source of revenue for governments and an area of opportunity for those facing budget deficits. In Texas, alcohol excise taxes have not been raised since 1984. And, since they’re not indexed to inflation, they have lost over half their value and are a poorly performing revenue source for the state. As seen in the table below, increasing our alcohol excise tax by as little as a dime a drink would save 402 lives, prevent more than 27,000 youth from binge drinking alcohol, and generate $708 million for Texas every year. With budget restrictions posing a potential problem to funding critical programs across the state (especially those related to education, health care, mental health, and child protective services), it’s important to consider different viable options for increasing revenue in the state. You can learn more about the positive public health impacts of raising the alcohol excise tax by reading our full report on the topic here.
- Raising the Legal Purchase Age of Tobacco to 21. Across the country, numerous cities and two states (Hawaii and California) have passed ordinances to raise the legal minimum age for sale of all tobacco and nicotine products from 18 to 21. In 2015, the Institute of Medicine released a report detailing the potential public health benefits of enacting a nationwide Tobacco 21 policy. Among the remarkable results was a 25% drop in youth smoking initiation, a 12% drop in overall smoking rates, and 16,000 cases of preterm birth and low birth weight averted in the first 5 years of the policy; the impacts would be recognized immediately. Their conservative estimate is that if age 21 were adopted throughout the U.S., it would prevent 4.2 million years of life lost to smoking in youth alive today. Visit org for more information on the issue.
- Tobacco Prevention and Control Funding. As it stands, Texas spends only 3.9% of the $268 million the CDC recommends it spend on tobacco prevention. However, with possible budget shortfalls on the horizon, even that 3.9% is at risk. Currently, the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) funds 12 counties in the state to implement comprehensive, community-based tobacco prevention and control. As a result, these Tobacco Prevention and Control Coalitions (TPCCs) have been able to create change by mobilizing local citizens to help pass smoke-free ordinances in their communities, educating youth on the harms of smoking, and helping current smokers quit through education on and referrals to the Quitline. Maintaining or increasing this funding is critical to improving the health of all Texas citizens and helping our youth become the generation to “Finish It.”
On Feb. 28, 2017 Texans Standing Tall is hosting an Advocacy Day in Austin, Texas. Youth and adult prevention advocates from across the state to unite at the Texas Capitol and raise awareness on various issues pertaining to prevention and public health. We hope you’ll join us to help be a strong voice for prevention! To learn more and register for the event, click here.