Prevention Advocates Convene in Austin to Meet with Lawmakers

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San Antonio prevention experts, youth and TST’s Christi Koenig Brisky prepare for a day of educating lawmaker on the steps of the Texas Capitol.

­­Texans Standing Tall, along with several coalitions, individuals, and youth from across the state, went to the Texas Capitol on Feb. 28 to educate lawmakers on the importance of prevention. Approximately 70 alcohol and tobacco prevention specialists attended Texans Standing Tall’s Advocacy Day to inform their representatives on the risks associated with powdered alcohol, the public health and safety benefits of raising the alcohol excise tax, the public health benefits of raising the legal purchase age of tobacco to 21, and the critical need for tobacco prevention and control funding.

The day opened with Marjorie Clifton, with Arrow, a media consulting firm, expanding Advocacy Day participants’ knowledge on the notable outcomes from TST’s 2017 Excise Tax Survey, which was conducted by research firm Baselice & Associates. According to the survey, 65% of registered voters support a dime a drink increase, especially when the revenue generated goes to public safety and education. Increasing the alcohol excise tax by a dime a drink would generate an additional $708 million in revenue every year. By current law, 25% of alcohol excise taxes generated is automatically designated for public education; the remainder of the money could be used to fund public health and safety efforts, as well as other issues that Texans are passionate about. Raising alcohol excise taxes is also the single biggest step we can take to prevent underage alcohol use and abuse – a dime a drink would save 402 lives annually.

Advocacy Day participants also learned about Texas lawmakers’ efforts to expand the definition of alcohol to include powdered alcohol, which has a texture similar to Tang or Kool-Aid and can be added to water to make cocktails or alcoholic drinks. The expanded definition would allow the Texas Alcohol and Beverage Commission (TABC) to regulate powdered alcohol and pave the way for this dangerous substance to be sold on the market. Kitty Allen, a public health advocate from the Galveston area, spoke to Advocacy Day attendees about the dangers powdered alcohol poses to the public health and safety of our communities. Powdered alcohol comes in small, youth-friendly packages that can easily be hidden in purses and pockets, essentially making it so teenagers can carry a 30-pack in their purses and 6-packs in their pockets to school, parties, or other events. Allen attested to TST’s belief that putting powdered alcohol on the shelves is a bad mix for Texas.

Cam Scott and Kaitlyn Murphy then took over the microphone to discuss the issues Tobacco Prevention and Control Program funded coalitions are facing. Nearly 50% of tobacco funding is on the chopping block, which could result in the state’s number of new smokers trending back up. The Campaign for Drug-Free Kids reports that states where funding was cut resulted in disastrous outcomes in the quest to create a tobacco-free generation. For example, Florida experienced a massive increase in tobacco use when state funding was slashed – smoking among youth 16 and older increased by 21.2%. When the funds were restored, smoking among youth declined by 62%.

Youth Leadership Council members met with journalist Ross Ramsey from the Texas Tribune.

The duo also briefed Advocacy Day participants on the latest in tobacco prevention efforts, Tobacco21. Attendees educated lawmakers on the benefits of raising the legal purchase age of tobacco in Texas from 18 to 21. The measure has already passed in two states and multiple cities in the across the country. According to the Minimal Retail Impact of Raising Tobacco Sales Age to 21, 90% of smokers start by age 21, but the 18-20 crowd only accounts for 2.12% of tobacco sales. These are the sales that account for 9 out of every 10 new smokers. By restricting youth access to tobacco, we can significantly reduce the number of new smokers.

TST was incredibly inspired by eight of our Youth Leadership Council members, who carried out a fundraising campaign so they could join us in Austin for Advocacy Day. At the event, our youth expressed very strong feelings about the importance of preventing underage alcohol use.

“Underage drinking costs Texas $2.1 billion annually, primarily in law enforcement and health related issues, and it would be impossible to place a value on the loss of life,” YLC member Kayla Gardner said. “We took time to travel to Austin to let our lawmakers know what is going on in our communities and how important it is that they start looking at prevention as a way to protect me, my friends, and their own kids from the dangers of alcohol, tobacco and other drugs.”

All of the issues discussed at Advocacy Day are critical issues that communities need to address. The normalization of alcohol results in higher numbers of underage drinkers, traffic deaths, homicides, suicides, and sexual assaults. The normalization of alcohol and pressure from a single business kept lawmakers from banning powdered alcohol—something that more than 30 states have already done—and allowed them to put industry interests ahead of the lives of our youth. On the tobacco front, budget restraints could result in lawmakers cutting funding to tobacco programs that save countless lives and decrease tobacco-related cancer risks.

It is up to us to act on behalf on future of generations. Advocacy Day was a strong show of support from those who are passionate about reducing the negative impact alcohol and tobacco have on the health and safety of our youth. Decide to ACT today and keep the momentum going! Register to attend TST’s Statewide Summit on May 1-2 so you can be prepared for the next obstacle in protecting today’s youth.

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