Hegar: Cracking down on vaping marketing that targets Texas kids

Special to the Express-News
by Glenn Hegar

March 25, 2024

The Texas Legislature gave the Comptroller's office, which I oversee, a powerful new tool to protect Texas children by criminalizing the sale of electronic cigarette products with packaging designed specifically to appeal to minors.

My office has adopted a rule implementing this law, the Protecting Children from Electronic Cigarette Advertising Act (House Bill 4758), which took effect Jan. 1. We’re serious about enforcing it, as are state and local law officers. I’m confident Texas' vaping shops, convenience stores and other retailers will continue to be our valuable partners by ensuring their employees follow this new law to the letter.

Breaking the law is a Class B misdemeanor, punishable by up to 180 days in jail, a fine of up to $2,000 or both. In addition, retailers may face civil penalties of as much as $3,000, and their tax permits may be suspended or revoked for repeat violations.

The punishment is significant because the threat to our children is significant. Experts tell us it’s unsafe for young people to use e-cigarettes.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, most e-cigarettes contain nicotine, which is extraordinarily addictive and can hurt a young person’s brain development. They also may contain other harmful substances.

Young people who use e-cigarettes may be more likely to smoke cigarettes later in life, risking serious illness and death.

That’s why five years ago Texas lawmakers banned the sale of tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, to people younger than 21. Federal law has the same age restriction. It’s a sound policy that’s intended to protect our children at a time when their decisions may have lifelong consequences.

Nevertheless, more than 2.1 million high school and middle school students who participated in the 2023 National Youth Tobacco Survey said they used e-cigarette products. As the father of three children younger than 21, this is distressing.

The Protecting Children from Electronic Cigarette Advertising Act is meant to put a dent in this troubling statistic by taking aim at packaging that appeals to minors — a practice that’s nothing short of deceptive marketing. E-cigarettes should be used only by adults, and it simply makes sense that the products’ packaging is clear about that fact.

Make no mistake: Manufacturers and distributors of e-cigarettes must adjust their marketing strategies or risk missing out on the Texas market.

Despite misinformation to the contrary, we are strictly enforcing the law to ensure e-cigarette packaging doesn’t target our children. It’s our duty, and we will carry it out to the fullest extent to protect our children’s health.

Glenn Hegar is Texas comptroller.