Should the state of Florida raise the legal age to buy cigarettes?
A group of lawmakers wants to make it illegal for anyone under 21 to buy tobacco products, arguing it will save the state billions in health care costs.
Senate Bill 1288 figures to be a hot topic when lawmakers get together next month. Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, is sponsoring the bill, which would change the minimum legal age from 18 to 21 to buy cigarettes, tobacco chew and electronic vaping devices and products.
Most people who smoke start in their teens so people sponsoring the bill argue raising the legal age to 21 to buy cigarettes will save lives.
If the bill passes, Florida would join five other states in the country in changing the legal age to buy cigarettes -- California, Hawaii, Maine, New Jersey and Oregon.
“They want everybody to quit smoking so they figure if they keep jacking the age up, people will say, it’s ridiculous," said Sylvia Gildersleeve, assistant manager at Market on Clematis Street in West Palm Beach.
Local businesses could see a cut in sales but some see the trend as positive.
“Most of the customers who come in and buy cigarettes for the most part are 21," said Gildersleeve. “In my honest opinion, if they’re going to smoke, they're going to find a way to smoke.”
Hess Marbrouk, who helps his son run the Green Olive Market place in West Palm Beach, actually agrees with the move.
“If it helps in any way at the end of the day, it’s going help a person want to quit smoking? We’ll definitely support that," he said.
But he added there is concern over the pressure to prevent people from illegally buying cigarettes, as well as the potential impact to customers.
“I think it will help the people to not smoke as much but unfortunately they are going to go to some other avenues to get the cigarette somehow -- and it might put a burden on businesses overall in terms of traffic," he said.
Lawmakers say the state of Florida alone spends $17 billion on health care costs and lost productivity from tobacco related diseases.
“Anything we can do to cut down on the amount of smoking will help those conditions," said Dr. Jason Sevald at Palm Beach Gardens Medical Center.
Dr. Sevald said we might also see a windfall when it comes to insurance premiums.
“Now that would be an affect you would find 20 30 years down the road," he said.
But even if the bill passes, Sevald added that it shouldn’t stop with an age limit.
“At the same time, you’ve got to continue with the education and letting people know that even as you reach that age, it’s really something you shouldn’t be involved with," he said.
If this becomes law and you break it, penalties include fines and community service. Vendors could also get fined up between $500 to $1,000.
Lawmakers will consider the cigarette bill in just three weeks, when the legislative session begins Jan. 9.