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 to register.

Bud Light Raises Spuds MacKenzie From the Dead in Super Bowl LI Commercial

By Kazia Conway

I was watching Super Bowl LI with my family on Feb. 4, along with 100 million people who probably have families like mine that include young children.

Let’s establish my family. My five-year-old daughter couldn’t have cared less about the game. Mommy likes the Patriots. Daddy is a Cowboys fan. Kennedy just likes to be included in the enthusiasm when we jump off the couch screaming in disbelief or in extreme praise of a well-executed play.

Courtesy Google Commons

But on Sunday night, my daughter’s lack of interest in the television took a turn when she looked up and saw the late Spuds MacKenzie revived through a ghostly computer-generated image on our screen for a Bud Light commercial. Kennedy opened her mouth and said, “Aaaaawwwww! He’s so cute.” Believe me, if I didn’t work in the prevention field I wouldn’t have noticed the ploy that was executed by none other than Anheuser-Busch.

Spuds MacKenzie “super party animal” ads rolled out the year (literally the Sunday before) I was born during the Super Bowl in 1987. I didn’t know anything about him. But my husband, who was five at the time – the same age my daughter is now – immediately said, “Hey, that’s Spuds MacKenzie! He was a big deal when daddy was a kid. He died in the late 90s.”

I immediately started researching Spuds MacKenzie for a little background information. I didn’t have to look far; one of the first things that comes up when you search “Spuds MacKenzie” is a bundle of old commercials with the adorable Spuds. He is a lovable Bull Terrier with a brown spot over his left eye. The New York Times reported in 1989 that Spuds “increased sales of Bud Light beer by 20 percent between 1987 and 1988.”

Nationally, Bud Light is the most consumed alcoholic beverage by underage drinkers. The Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth reports that “every day in the US, more than 4,750 kids under the age of 16 have their first full drink of alcohol.” In Texas, 18 percent of students report having their first full drink of alcohol before the age of 13.

The alcohol industry has set a voluntary standard saying it will not advertise in spaces where more than 30% of the viewing audience is under the legal drinking age of 21. However, the reaction to Spuds MacKenzie from both my five-year-old daughter and my husband’s five-year-old self say that the alcohol industry’s voluntary self-regulation isn’t exactly working.

Spuds’ time in the spotlight was short lived because of efforts spearheaded by politicians and Mothers Against Drunk Driving. Eventually, schools across the nation began banning clothing that featured the adorable pup.

I was two when Bud Light officially retired its famous canine in 1989, and I somehow managed to live my entire life without knowing anything about this controversial cultural icon. Spuds’ impact on “cool” may have skipped a generation of millennials, but our kids are now being exposed.

Alcohol remains the most-used substance by Texas youth. I am armed to handle alcohol in a way that most parents aren’t because I work in prevention. I have read and written about the importance of discussing the negative consequences, health risks, and zero-tolerance laws around alcohol. I have read and written about the importance of leading by example. I have also read and written about the importance of making sure my daughter has a very clear understanding that her parents will not tolerate alcohol, tobacco, or drug use of any kind in or out of our presence. I recognize the parenting privilege I have and that there are millions of other families with young children who are not aware of the impact alcohol advertising has on them.

They say that money is power. Well, the alcohol industry spends $4 billion a year on advertising –how’s that for power? Because of this, it is important that parents remember there is power in the tongue. Talking to the youth in your life about the risks of alcohol is free. Your children aren’t too young to see these advertisements, so they’re not too young to begin the conversation.

We’re interested in hearing your thoughts on Bud Light reviving Spuds MacKenzie and what watching the “Big Game” with your children was like this year. Share your experience in the comments.


Meet this year’s SBI campuses

By: Lucianne Nelson

In our work to create healthier and safer communities, Texans Standing Tall partners with colleges and universities across the state to accomplish those goals. Each year, Texans Standing Tall partners with several schools to implement the Screening and Brief Intervention project. Screening and Brief Intervention (SBI) for alcohol use is an evidence-based intervention to reduce risky drinking behaviors and related consequences. SBI is often conducted in counseling or judicial settings on college campuses after an individual has been injured or gotten in trouble with the law due to alcohol use, but Texans Standing Tall’s SBI project is innovative because SBI is implemented as a preventive measure prior to an alcohol-related injury or violation. This project has been shown to help reduce risky drinking behavior among college students in Texas.

Through the project, students at our partner campuses are approached in a non-confrontational manner, such as during a class or meeting. The person recruiting them – usually a student volunteer – pitches the screening tool and follow-up interview (the brief intervention) as a public health opportunity that may improve their school performance. Students complete the World Health Organization AUDIT survey, tally their score, and receive a score sheet with information about their drinking behaviors. Regardless of their score, all students then take their results to a trained interviewer who, in a private setting, offers to briefly discuss their scores (the motivational interview).

During the motivational interview the student identifies any problems that accompany or result from their alcohol use. The interviewer and student discuss contributing factors and consequences of risky alcohol use. Students who are moderate drinkers or abstinent receive reinforcement for positive behavior.

Meet the Campuses!

Texas A&M International University – Laredo, TX

  • Texas A&M International University has worked with us to implement this program before, so we are helping them develop a sustainable model of this program. As a member of the TAMU network, Texas A&M International is the largest campus we are working right now. We are pleased with their success, and are happy to have them joining us again.

Our Lady of the Lake University – San Antonio, TX

  • Our Lady of the Lake University is a private, four-year university. Our Lady of the Lake has a proactive approach to public health on their campus, and is always looking for opportunities to improve their campus community for their students. They learned of the SBI program with Texans Standing Tall through their local coalition, and this is their first year to be partnering with us. We look forward to helping them develop their SBI project this year!

San Antonio College – San Antonio, TX

  • SAC is a large campus within their community college network. Their campus is centrally located in San Antonio. Even though SAC is a two-year school, they provide a wide range of health services to their students. SAC is another new campus, and Texans Standing Tall is so excited to be partnering with this school.

Huston-Tillotson University – Austin, TX

  • Like Our Lady of the Lake, Huston-Tillotson is also a private, four-year university. They are also a historically black college, and – being in Austin – pretty much neighbors with Texans Standing Tall. This campus is also new this year, and their project is being developed by a bright group of student leaders who are eager to help their fellow students develop healthy lifestyle patterns.

Over the course of the next few months, each of these campus partners will plan and host an SBI event that is unique to their campus. Texans Standing Tall will provide assistance and support on an ongoing basis.

Hosting in the Home is Still Risky for Youth

By: Libby Banks

Recently, social host ordinances (or SHOs) have been receiving a lot of attention across the state of Texas. With the passage of SHOs in both El Paso and San Antonio, Texans Standing Tall wants to take the time to explain what social host ordinances are and how they help reduce underage social access to alcohol.

Alcohol is the most commonly used substance among youth. Of the 45% of high schoolers who drink, 81% of underage drinkers say that they most often get alcohol from parties and friends. Some parents may allow underage drinking parties because they think it keeps their kids safe and prevents them from driving. However, limited or no supervision combined with heavy drinking creates an unsafe environment where problems beyond drinking and driving occur, including violence and assaults, binge drinking and alcohol poisoning, sexual assault, unplanned sexual activity, combination drug use, and property damage and vandalism.

Research  indicates that social host ordinances are a successful way to reduce underage drinking and the associated negative consequences. A social host is a person who provides space for underage youth to drink alcohol. The ordinance is a civil law that holds hosts accountable for allowing underage alcohol use on their property, regardless of who purchased the alcohol.

Texas has a strong statewide law – the Furnishing Alcohol to a Minor Law – which states that giving alcohol to minors is a Class A misdemeanor – just one degree below a felony. Punishment includes up to $4000 in fines, up to one year in jail, or both, and an automatic 180-day suspension of the offender’s driver’s license. However, because this offense is classified as “criminal,” the burden on law enforcement to provide sufficient evidence for conviction is high. This often results in cases being dismissed without anyone being held accountable for providing alcohol to minors at an underage drinking party.

Texans Standing Tall recently worked with Circles of San Antonio (COSA) to help pass a SHO in San Antonio. COSA conducted underage drinking surveys in San Antonio, and they found that 90% of parents believed that underage drinking is a problem; 87% of adults thought that parents should be held responsible for the actions of minors that occurred on their property. 93% of the law enforcement surveyed thought underage drinking was a moderate to severe problem in San Antonio, and 79% of law enforcement surveyed believed that social hosts should be held accountable for parties. This research helped inform COSA’s strategy to pursue a civil SHO.  Thanks to COSA’s hard work, the San Antonio SHO passed, and they became the largest city in the country to have a civil SHO. The San Antonio SHO will go into effect on March 1, 2017.

Civil social hosts ordinances are an alternative route for reducing youth social access to alcohol. Local civil social host ordinances are more easily enforced and serve as another tool to reduce underage drinking. Civil cases require a lower burden of proof – “clear and convincing evidence” instead of evidence “beyond a reasonable doubt.” They typically have lower fines than a criminal law, and they also do not have punishments like jail-time and license suspension associated with them.

A civil SHO is a useful tool for communities seeking to hold adults accountable for underage drinking. With the passage of civil SHOs in two of the largest cities in Texas, this strategy has momentum, and we are excited about helping communities pursue their own civil social host ordinance. Contact Anne-Shirley Schreiner at if you are interested in receiving more information about reducing underage social access to alcohol in your community!

Decide to A.C.T. (Accomplish Change Together)

Texans Standing Tall will host our 2017 Statewide Summit on May 1-2. This year’s theme, “Decide to A.C.T.”, will reflect the countless ways we all can work together to make our communities healthier and safer. The acronym A.C.T., or Accomplish Change Together, is a reminder for everyone that when we work together the possibilities for community improvement are endless!

The decisions and actions individuals make affects the overall health and safety of your family and your community. There is no better time than the present for us to look around and see what improvements we can make. This year’s summit will be informational, engaging, and a true commitment to our theme of preparing community lifeguards with the knowledge of strengthening community bonds.

Whether you volunteer for a prevention organization, or pass a smoke free or social host ordinance, tag Texans Standing Tall in your community ACTs on social media. We’d love to tell your stories in our newsletter and our blog! So what are you waiting for? Decide to A.C.T. right now!