UNIVERSAL CITY — City leaders are considering raising the legal age to buy tobacco products from 18 to 21, but they first want to see the Legislature’s next move.
If Universal City passes such an ordinance, it would join San Antonio and Kirby as the only Texas municipalities to add new restrictions on tobacco sales, which would also include smoking devices such as e-cigarettes, to those under 21.
In other recent business, the town also enacted tighter constraints on area massage establishments.
Meanwhile, Councilman Dick Neville introduced a proposed regulation limiting tobacco purchases to 21 and above during an April City Council meeting. The rise in popularity of e-cigarettes among teens motivated him to act, he said.
“The cancer rate for those kids is going to balloon,” Neville added.
E-cigarette use among high school students skyrocketed 78 percent in 2017 versus the previous reporting period, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Similarly, its use in middle school jumped 48 percent.
State lawmakers recently took steps to prevent teens from accessing tobacco products.
In April, the Senate approved Senate Bill 21, which prohibits anyone under 21 years old from buying tobacco. The bill, however, exempted active military members.
A companion bill passed by a House committee in March didn’t make the same allowances for armed services.
As of press time, the two chambers hadn’t hammered out compromise legislation and are scheduled to head home before June, although the governor could call a special session later.
At the council meeting, City Manager Kim Turner told municipal officials she’d like to see Texas legislators pass a bill before drafting one locally.
If the statewide ordinance gets approved, Turner said the only revision Universal City needed to make on its version would be to the “15-foot rule” for smoking outside of work for individuals 21 and up.
Meantime, the town is enforcing stricter controls on local massage businesses, according to city officials, partly to serve as a deterrent to any future human trafficking.
The action doesn’t mean anything illegal is currently occurring in the area, officials are quick to add; the new ordinance is simply a precaution.
There are a number of reputable enterprises in the Randolph Metrocom offering massage therapy, aromatherapy and other wellness techniques, which bring healing and comfort to clients, officials added.
During its session, the council voted 4-0 to amend its ordinance for such establishments. Under the restructured law, the shops can only operate from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m., with customers only entering and leaving through the front.
A violation of the misdemeanor carries a fine of up to $500.
The idea behind the update, Turner said, was to comply with state law and combat potential human trafficking.
On the national level, illicit massage businesses statistically have been a top venue for sex traffic in recent years, according to law-enforcement agencies.
Turner wasn’t aware of any such occurrences in Universal City today, but noted in past years law enforcement shuttered an area massage parlor suspected of being a front for a prostitution ring.
“Issues of that nature tend to come and go because, obviously, we can try to identify them and get them closed down,” she said.