West Campus convenience stores, students brace for new Texas tobacco law

Hayden Baggett

The legal age to buy tobacco and nicotine products in Texas will rise from 18 to 21 on Sept. 1, and convenience stores surrounding campus are preparing for the new law to take effect.

Senate Bill 21 was authored by Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston, and it received more than 20 co-sponsors by the time Gov. Greg Abbott signed the bill in June. Texas will be the 16th state to raise the smoking age when the law is implemented Sunday, but not all Texans agree with the change.

Ashok Khadka, the owner and manager of the Bodega on Rio at 21st and Rio Grande streets, said the new law will hurt his business because he sells a high volume of nicotine-based products. 

“It will be very difficult for me because (a lot of) students in West Campus are 18 or below 21,” Khadka said. 

The law does include a grandfather clause wherein all persons born on or before Aug. 31, 2001 are excluded from the prohibition, according to the Texas Legislature’s website. This means if an individual is at least 18 years old by Saturday, he or she can still purchase these products.

Khadka said he expects to start losing revenue when the grandfather period ends.

“I’ll be good maybe for two years because of the grandfather (clause),” Khadka said. “After that, it will be hard for me.”

Under the new law, all military members above 18 years old are permanently exempt from the age restriction. Khadka said he finds consolation in this rule because it would be unjust to prohibit individuals serving in the armed forces.

“I am still against (the new law), but no one listens to me,” Khadka said.

Other convenience stores around campus are also expecting to suffer from the new law. Lilia Bayo, a cashier at Orange Market on the corner of 25th and San Gabriel streets, said she expects the store to lose money, but she supports the change.

“(The law) is protecting young people,” Bayo said. “Some students will do it anyway — illegally — but I still think it’s good because students will smoke less.”

Both Bayo and Khadka said vaping devices, such as Juul and Suorin products, are the most popular smoking products purchased in their stores. Juul Labs, the company that created Juuls, advocated for the new law, according to a June press release.

“We won’t succeed in providing the world’s 1 billion adult smokers with a true alternative to combustible cigarettes, the number one cause of preventable death in this country, if youth use continues unabated,” Juul CEO Kevin Burns said in the press release. “We are committed to working with lawmakers to enact these effective policies and hope more jurisdictions follow in Texas’ example.”

Design sophomore Stevie Harvel said she is a fan of the new law but does not believe it will keep tobacco out of the hands of younger people.

“(The law) kind of won’t make a difference,” Harvel said. “I used to smoke, and I got cigarettes before I turned 18 from people older than 21 … If kids want it, I feel like they get it.”