By: Jake Stofan | Capitol News Service
December 27, 2017
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (CNS) -- Quitting smoking is one of the most popular New Year’s Resolutions, but every year, 7,400 people pick up smoking as a daily habit. Florida lawmakers hope increasing the legal smoking age to 21 will prevent teens from picking up the habit.
Kelly Blair had his first cigarette when he was in 3rd grade. He began smoking regularly in 7th grade.
“The worst mistake of my life was starting smoking cigarettes,” says Blair.
The rate of smoking among young Floridians has dropped 71% in the last decade thanks in part to a concentrated effort by Tobacco Free Florida.
“We have about 15 percent of Florida's adults who are still smoking and only about 3% of youth,” says Tobacco Free Florida’s Kellie O’Dare.
The drop in tobacco use has saved Florida tax payers $18 billion in smoking-related health costs.
“We can look at about 30% of cancers being attributable to cigarette smoking,” says O’Dare.
In Florida, a person can legally purchase and consume tobacco products at 18. A new proposal in the State legislature would raise the legal age to 21.
People under 21 caught smoking would face 20 hours of community service. A second offense would double the hours.
“Hopefully it would deter kids from even starting. Hopefully what I'm telling you right now deters someone out there. You know, save one person and you've done a great job,” says Blair.
Under the proposal, vendors who sell tobacco to people younger than 21 would face a $500 fine. The fine doubles with a second offense.
“If people respect the law I think that there's some chance it might keep some people away and thus it is valuable,” says Josh Carpenter, a nonsmoker in Tallahassee.
If the legislation passes, Florida would become the sixth state to raise the legal age for tobacco to 21.