A Look Ahead: The 86th Legislature

On January 8, 2019, Texas lawmakers will gather in Austin for the 86th Legislature – a 140-day session designed to pass our state’s budget for the coming 2020-2021 biennnium, as well as hundreds (or possibly thousands) of new laws.

Here at Texans Standing Tall, we’ll be tracking legislation that relates to our mission: to make our communities safer, healthier, and drug-free for Texas youth. As we do every legislative session, we’ll focus on policies that most directly connect to our primary goal of preventing drug use among youth. In this role, we’ll specifically be monitoring:

  1. Powdered Alcohol, or Palcohol. This product, alcohol in powdered form, is appealing to youth because the kool-aid-like packaging makes it easy to conceal.  Nearly 40 states have already banned powdered alcohol, and the American Medical Association (AMA) announced that it supports state and federal laws banning it in the United States because the product could “cause serious harm to minors.” We’ll be working to ensure powdered alcohol does not make it onto shelves in Texas
  2. 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. Yet 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.
  3. Raising the Legal Purchase Age of Tobacco to 21. Across the country, numerous cities and two states (Hawaii and California) have enacted policies that raise the legal minimum age for sale of all tobacco and nicotine products from 18 to 21. According to conservative estimates, if raising the tobacco sale age to 21 was adopted throughout the U.S., it would prevent 4.2 million years of life lost to smoking in youth alive today. You can learn more from our friends over at texas21.org.
  4. Tobacco Prevention and Control Funding. As it stands, Texas spends only 3.9% of the $268 million the CDC recommends on tobacco prevention. Currently, the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) funds 6 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. At TST, we’ve worked with numerous cities and counties on their efforts to make their cities smoke free; in the Rio Grande Valley alone, more than a dozen cities are now smoke free. However, statewide funding is imperative to make sure TPCCs can continue their work to prevent young people from smoking, help current smokers quit, and create smoke-free air for all Texans.
  5. Efforts to legalize marijuana. As policies regarding medical and recreational marijuana use change throughout the country – and possibly in our state – we’ll be following the issue in order to address various public health and safety concerns that may arise.

If you are interested in advocating for these issues and more, join us for our Advocacy Day in Austin on February 19th. This fun and educational day brings together youth and adult prevention advocates from across the state to raise awareness on public health issues at the Texas Capitol. We hope you’ll join us – and bring a few friends! To learn more and register for the event, click here.

Why We Should Raise the Tobacco Sale Age in Texas


Image Source: Tobacco21.org

Tobacco is still the number 1 preventable cause of death in Texas. Annually, 12,300 new Texas youth become daily smokers. A shocking one-third of them will die prematurely as a result.

Smokers get hooked at a young age, with about 95% of smokers starting before age 21. In Texas, 10,400 kids under 18 become new daily smokers each year. And, because many high school seniors turn 18 while still in school, friends and classmates are a common source of tobacco products for these underage users. But we can begin to tackle these trends – and help keep tobacco out of schools – by raising the tobacco sales age in Texas to 21.

Raising the tobacco sale age to 21 is an effective strategy to fight tobacco use, and it’s gaining momentum nationwide. Six states have raised their tobacco sale ages to 21, along with more than 360 cities and counties across the country.

San Antonio recently became the first city in Texas to pass a Tobacco 21 law. Right now, there is an effort underway to get this done statewide during the next Texas legislative session.

With the rapid growth in e-cigarette use among young people – from 2017 to 2018, the number of high-school-age children saying they use e-cigarettes rose by more than 75 percent – there are many concerns that these types of electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS) are becoming an “on-ramp for children to become addicted to nicotine.” These concerns seem warranted since “more high school kids are smoking cigarettes as vaping surges, reversing a two-decade-long decline.” Alarming statistics like these make it even more important for us to do everything we can to keep young people from smoking.

That’s one of the many reasons why we’re supporting our friends at Texas Tobacco 21, a coalition of organizations working with community partners like you to save lives by preventing tobacco use. Members of the coalition include the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, American Heart Association, Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, and American Lung Association, Texas Academy of Family Physicians, Texas Medical Association, and Texas Pediatric Society.

For Texas Tobacco 21 updates, visit texas21.org or follow them on Facebook and Twitter. You can also sign up for their newsletter for more information about Tobacco 21 meetings and events taking place across Texas.

Facts About E-Cigarettes

 

In less than a decade, the rise in the use of ENDS – or electronic nicotine delivery systems — coupled with a lack of knowledge about the effects of inhaling their vapor (known as “vaping”) has led to a major public health concern.

ENDS devices include e-cigarettes, personal vaporizers, vape pens, e-cigars, e-hookah, and other vaping devices that produce an aerosolized mixture containing flavored liquids and nicotine. They are relatively new products that continue to grow in number and popularity, especially among young users.

Since they first came onto the market, we’ve learned a lot about ENDS – namely, about the health risks associated with e-cigarettes and vaping, the lack of industry regulation, and perceptions among youth. Unfortunately, there’s still a lot we don’t know—and likely won’t know until the industry is fully regulated.

But one thing is clear: there’s enough evidence to know e-cigarettes and other electronic nicotine delivery systems cause harm, and we must work to prevent their use among young people.

We’ve compiled some of the lesser-known facts about ENDS from a variety of sources, and we’ve included several associated links so that you can learn more about any given fact.

Overall Use and Popularity

Long-Term Use and Associated Risks

Perception and Awareness

Industry

TST has worked with dozens of communities in Texas to become smoke-free – and now make sure they include ENDS in their local policies. We will continue our efforts to collaborate with prevention groups on their local efforts to eliminate and reduce tobacco use for the health and safety of our kids and communities. If you have any questions or want more information about what you can do in your community on this issue or other tobacco-related issues, please contact Steve at SRoss@TexansStandingTall.org or 512.442.7501.

Examining Tobacco Inequities in Black Communities

February is a chance for us to recognize the contributions and accomplishments of so many Black Americans. At the same time, it is also important to remember that there are still obstacles to overcome. We admit, the prevention field has work to do when it comes to creating solutions that address the inequities experienced by neighborhoods with a high or concentrated Black population. These inequities are especially noticeable with the discriminatory practices of the tobacco industry that target black neighborhoods and low-income schools. It is no coincidence that black people in this country die at much higher rates than their white counterparts from smoking-related illnesses.

The tobacco industry knows exactly what it’s doing. While there have been smoking declines in both youth and adult tobacco use, the health gap endures among at-risk communities. Established research indicates that the negative health affects of smoking disproportionately affects racial minorities and tobacco marketing often targets areas with a low socioeconomic status.

The shameless targeted marketing to these communities has put an unnecessary and disproportionate amount of tobacco-related health burdens on black communities. Big tobacco has been known to donate to Historically Black Colleges and Universities, as well as sponsor cultural events, and make contributions to elected officials, community organizations, and even scholarship programs. They’ve long employed blacks to work in tobacco factories as a means of supporting their families. These seeming acts of friendliness to the black community work in contrast to the amount of damage that black families suffer at the hands of the tobacco industry. Tobacco contributes to the three leading causes of death among black Americans: heart disease, cancer and stroke.

While blacks smoke less and begin smoking at a later age than whites, they ultimately have the highest incidence of death rates and shortest survival rate of any race or ethnic group for most cancers. Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids reports that “more than 72,000 Black Americans are diagnosed with a tobacco-related cancer and more than 39,00 die from tobacco related cancer.” In fact, lung cancer kills more Black Americans than any other type of cancer.

Black youth are also disproportionately affected by exposure to secondhand smoke. Studies show that among youth ages three to 11, 68% of black children are exposed to secondhand smoke, compared to 37% of white children in the same age range. Secondhand smoke exposure is linked with sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), respiratory infections, ear infection, and more severe asthma attacks.

Prevention is key to the success of creating healthier and safer black communities. Blacks have lower cessation rates than whites because they generally have higher levels of nicotine dependence as a consequence of a preference for menthol cigarettes. Public education campaigns are generally well received and effective in decreasing the number of youth who start smoking, increasing the number of smokers who quit, and making tobacco industry marketing less effective. Research from the 2013 Tips From Former Smokers showed that in areas where the campaign was highly visible, the quit attempt among blacks was 60% higher than those areas that received a standard dose of the campaign.

Environmental prevention strategies like price increases are the most powerful anti-smoking factor for all youth, and enforcing laws that prohibit the sale of cigarettes to youth proves to be most effective in reducing smoking among black teens. However, research shows that black communities have not benefitted from the growing number of smoke-free ordinances and laws that have spread across the country. Research indicates that while white, Hispanic and Asian  communities are benefitting from the spread of comprehensive smoke-free ordinances, geographic region coupled with the lack of prevention resources available in black communities have made it so they aren’t benefitting as much from anti-tobacco campaigns. These issues contribute to the continued disproportionate exposure to secondhand smoke for black youth.

Instead of proposals by lawmakers to decrease funding for Tobacco Prevention and Control in our state, we should look at ways to increase funding. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends comprehensive tobacco prevention and control programming which includes resources for populations that are disproportionately affected as well as funding of $5.98 per person. Yet, Texas’ current funding levels are at .25 cents to $2.50 a person. An increase in per person funding levels could support public health champions in black communities advocating for their health and safety. It’s time we start investing in these communities.

For more information about tobacco prevention and control efforts in our state, visit TexansStandingTall.org or contact Steve Ross at sross@texansstandingtall.org. If you are interested in bringing change to your community, the African American Tobacco Control Leadership Council will host its 2017 National Conference on Tobacco or Health Ancillary Meeting on from 5 p.m. to  7 p.m. on Thursday, March 23 in Austin, Texas. For more information on the upcoming conference and the African American Tobacco Control Leadership Council, visit SavingBlackLives.org .

UNIDAD TPCC Passes Two More Smoke-Free Ordinances

New Year? New smoke-free ordinance! In last month’s Compass, we mentioned how we look forward to celebrating more success in 2017, but we didn’t expect to see it happening so soon! The UNIDAD Tobacco Prevention and Control Coalition in the Rio Grande Valley has worked to pass two more smoke-free ordinances already this January.

On Jan. 3, Donna and Weslaco joined Alton, Edinburg, Mission, and Pharr on Hidalgo County’s list of smoke-free ordinances. Hidalgo County is now home to six of the 60 cities in Texas with smoke-free ordinances.

In addition to preventing the use of cigarettes and e-cigarettes inside restaurants, clubs, bars, and other buildings, Donna smokers have to be 25 feet from a building entrance or window when they light up. In Weslaco, that distance is 20 feet. Businesses in both cities will receive information on the new ordinances and will have 30 days to comply and before the city begins enforcing the new laws.

A major benefit of a smoke-free ordinance is decreasing the number of Texans exposed to secondhand smoke. Secondhand smoke contains a mixture of over 4,000 chemicals, more than 50 of which contain cancer-causing agents (carcinogens). Young children are particularly vulnerable to secondhand smoke because their lungs are not fully developed. According to the Texas Department of State Health Services, tobacco related disease cost the state approximately $17.7 billion.

UNIDAD is aiming for a smoke-free county, and one day TST hopes to see a smoke-free state. Increasing the number of smoke-free ordinances across the state helps put a dent in the 498,000 youth under the age of 18 alive today that will ultimately die from smoking related illnesses. We take the health of Texas youth very seriously; it is the reason for our quest to create healthier and safer communities.

We happily applaud the efforts and successes of the coalitions working to create smoke-free communities. UNIDAD will have our continued support in pushing for the positive impact a comprehensive smoke-free ordinance has on the community they serve.

TST offers training and technical assistance for communities working to enact smoke-free ordinances. If you are interested in bringing TST’s expertise to your coalition, please contact Steve Ross for more information.