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Martin County to consider requiring tobacco retailers to pay for license

'It's nothing more than having the retailers follow the law,' commissioner says
Posted at 10:29 PM, Oct 26, 2020
and last updated 2020-10-27 08:24:34-04

STUART, Fla.  — Martin County could become the second county in the state to require businesses that sell tobacco to pay for an annual county license.

County commissioners will vote on the idea Tuesday as part of a vote to update current county tobacco laws.

In 2019, President Donald Trump signed legislation raising the legal age to buy tobacco products from 18 to 21 years old.

Martin County's laws have not been updated to reflect those changes.

Commissioners at the same time will consider whether to create a tobacco distribution license, which all tobacco retailers would be required to obtain to sell tobacco in the county. The proposed price is $300. Alachua County also requires the license, according to Commissioner Stacey Hetherington.

Businesses that violate the ordinance and sell to people underage could be fined and have their licenses suspended.

Money collected from the licenses would go, in part, to funding tobacco use prevention programs in schools.

"It's nothing more than having the retailers follow the law," Hetherington said. "If you go and sit in your barber or your hairdresser's chair, you always sit there and you stare at their license. Why would we not want our tobacco retailers having a license and just simply having accountability?"

She said youth smoking and vaping is a public health emergency.

"Today, one out of five high schoolers have reported using electronic cigarettes in the last 30 days and one of 20 middle schoolers," Hetherington said.

She also said the license would help create a database of tobacco retailers that law enforcement could access to ensure compliance with the law.

Herb Short and his son have owned the Black Dog Cigar Bar in Martin County for more than eight years.

"It's a fun business," Short said. "We deal with people that are doing something they enjoy."

He never opposed the change to the law raising the legal age for purchasing tobacco.

"It was fairly rare that we had anyone buying cigars under 21 anyway," Short said.

But when it comes to expanding local laws to require a license to sell his product, Short is "very much opposed to it."

"I view it strictly as another tax grab," he said.