Texas has consistently underfunded programs designed to prevent and reduce tobacco use, according to a new report from the American Lung Association.

Texas received mostly failing grades in the organization’s annual report, which evaluates states’ work to cut tobacco use and help people who are addicted to nicotine.

What you need to know

In 2023, Texas lawmakers set aside $2.5 million to develop state tobacco prevention and cessation programs, which are run by the Texas Department of State Health Services. This helped expand resources available through the state’s tobacco quitline and funded the relaunch of a campaign focused on helping minors quit vaping, according to the report.

Charlie Gagen, the American Lung Association’s Texas advocacy director, said Texas has great programs, but they do not reach everyone who needs them.

For example, the state funds coalitions that partner with schools, law enforcement and more to reduce tobacco use in their communities. But only three coalitions serving eight counties currently receive funding.

“We think every county should have the funds to work on tobacco at the local level,” Gagen said. “Similarly, there are great programs focused on high schoolers and college students, but they only reach a few thousand students when we have well over 1 million good targets ... who need to get resources for all things tobacco, particularly around e-cigarettes.”

Between state and federal sources, Texas spends about $9.4 million annually on tobacco control programs. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend Texas spend over $264 million.

A closer look

Texas last raised its cigarette tax, which is $1.41 for a conventional 20-pack of cigarettes, in 2006. E-cigarettes, however, are not subject to the cigarette tax, “leaving them relatively cheaper than their other tobacco product counterparts,” Gagen said.

In 2022, 11.8% of Texas adults reported that they smoked. Under 2% of high schoolers reported smoking, while 15.3% reported that they used other forms of tobacco such as e-cigarettes.

A new Texas law requires that students caught with e-cigarettes, marijuana or THC at school be sent to an off-campus disciplinary alternative education program. The law, known as House Bill 114, went into effect Sept. 1.

“We really were disappointed that the focus continues to be on punishing kids instead of holding the adults accountable who are selling these products,” Gagen said. “Whenever a teenager has an e-cigarette, an adult has failed or broken the law at some point.”

School officials across Texas have expressed concerns about punishing students instead of helping them quit vaping. Many districts said their DAEP centers do not have enough space to house possibly hundreds of students who are caught vaping.

However, some districts have seen declines in e-cigarette use in the months said HB 114 became law. Leander ISD, north of Austin, reported a nearly 30% decrease in nicotine vaping incidents from mid-August to mid-October 2023.

Another new law, HB 4758, creates a new state crime for marketing, advertising or selling e-cigarettes to minors through images of cartoon characters, celebrities or food. The Legislature did not set aside any funds to help enforce the new law, which went into effect Jan. 1.

Tobacco retailers are not held accountable in the same way as alcohol sellers, Gagen said. Texas’ compliance process for tobacco retailers is primarily complaint-based, and retailers are not subject to annual compliance checks.

“Bars and liquor stores are terrified of selling to minors because they know [the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission] will give them a pretty stiff penalty,” Gagen said. “We would really like to do something similar for tobacco products so tobacco retailers know that they will be held accountable for selling to minors.”

More details

While around 44% of Texas communities have local ordinances that ban smoking indoors, there is no statewide smoke-free law. Texas prohibits smoking at schools and child care facilities, but does not have restrictions for workplaces, stores, restaurants and more, the report said.

“In the year 2024, it shouldn't be controversial to simply ask folks to step outside if they're going to use a tobacco product,” Gagen said.