Tobacco 21 hurts San Antonio youth and government


Illustration by Yessenia Lopez, staff illustrator

The San Antonio City Council rang in the new year by raising the age required to purchase tobacco from 18 to 21. I was personally very disappointed by the decision, but not surprised at all.

San Antonio, after the past years’ local elections, has a very progressive city council. San Antonio has eight progressives on the city council and only two conservatives. San Antonio’s mayor Ron Nirenberg is a self-styled progressive, whom many of Trinity’s progressive student body heartily supported. If you want evidence, just take a look around Coates and you will see someone with a “Nirenberg for Mayor” sticker on their laptop.

San Antonio’s city council decided to raise the age after listening to advocates from an organization known as Tobacco 21. Tobacco 21 is an organization dedicated to reducing the usage of tobacco in society, most often by raising the age for purchasing tobacco from 18 years to 21 years.

The decision was made by the city council after a concerted effort by Tobacco 21 and overly active high school students attempting to bloat their resumes for college admissions. The only group that put forward semi-serious opposition to the ordinance were small business owners who said that the ordinance would affect their income.

The reasons given for raising the age for tobacco purchase were simple. Raising the age prevents underage high school students from bumming a smoke off of their friends who were 18. High school is an interesting grey zone of legality. At the youngest end of the scale, high school students can be as young as 13 or 14 years old. At the oldest side of the scale, high school students can be legal adults by being 18 or 19 years old capable of filming pornography, voting and smoking tobacco.

Tobacco 21’s website makes the case that the primary cause of students becoming addicted to tobacco is that they bum a smoke off of their older high school friends. By raising the age to 21 for purchasing tobacco, they break the chain and thus save high school students from becoming the next smokers.

Raising the age for tobacco is a progressive policy that makes criminal what has traditionally been a legal activity. The policy is based on self-congratulation  passing the policy makes those who advocated for it feel better because they believe that they stopped people from developing lung cancer.

I am not advocating that cigarettes don’t cause cancer. I am not that kind of conservative. My disapproval of the policy change comes from my belief that punishing people who are 18 or older for smoking tobacco will do more harm than good.

Tobacco 21’s website has a specific section in which it addresses the argument that being 18 means that you are an adult. The site argues that marking legal adulthood at 18 years of age is a line created and peddled by the big evil lobbyists.

But criminalizing the sale of tobacco to people under 21 will have a number of negative outcomes. This criminalization increases the number of interactions between the police and minors whose brains haven’t fully developed and are liable to make bad decisions.

In their quest for liberty, libertarians often invoke the question, “Are you willing to put a gun to someone’s head in order to make them commit or not commit a specific action?” While I often find this litmus test to be unsatisfactory in terms of morality, I believe that this question begs to be asked in this situation. How willing are you to put a gun to an 18-year-old’s head over a stick of tobacco?

The old college joke used to be that at the age of 18 we can fight for our country, vote and smoke but not drink alcohol. Now, in San Antonio, we can only vote and fight for our country.

The high age requirement in the United States compared to Europe for the consumption of alcohol has resulted in a destruction of American drinking culture. That is an article in itself, but take the time to discuss this with an international student  the differences are stark.

Raising the age for the use of tobacco makes college even more of a legal minefield. At college, we partake in activities that we are told to do by society but are criminalized according to the legal codes. For example, the age for alcohol consumption is 21.

However, Trinity still gives us ample instruction on how to drink safely, even providing cups to use while we drink. The only time it becomes illegal is when TUPD is on your doorstep. Then suddenly something that is socially acceptable becomes dangerously illegal.

While most of our students don’t smoke, making smoking illegal simply makes existing as a college student a more dangerous and stressful situation. Another thing to add to a list of fines and stresses after you inevitably get busted that one time in college.

Most people argue and know that the drinking age should be 18, and it would be if it weren’t for federal highway funding mechanisms. Alcohol and tobacco offer students ways to reduce stress in their lives. Yes, they are actions that are damaging to our health, but as adults it should be our decision whether or not to partake.

It is my belief that the San Antonio City Council would have been better off attempting to solve other problems in San Antonio instead of fighting a nonexistent issue in order to make themselves feel better. How many people in San Antonio besides Tobacco 21 think that underage smoking is an actual sizable problem? The answer is not many.

Right now, San Antonio’s police department is severely understaffed, to the point where millions of dollars are going towards paying overtime. The city is in the midst of a crime wave. There are many different problems that the San Antonio City Council could have chosen to address, instead, they chose to address a non-issue.

However, based on their solution to this problem, I think we are better off that they chose to continue addressing non-issues. Look out, Tide corporation, San Antonio City Council is coming for you.