Will Alachua County Increase Tobacco Sales Age to 21?

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Alachua County is still considering increasing the age of tobacco sales from 18 to 21.

County commissioners on Tuesday directed the county attorney’s office to discuss it further. While the ordinance — as discussed Tuesday — would prohibit the sale of tobacco products to anyone under 21, it will not prohibit the usage of them.

The Health Care Advisory board proposed the ordinance as part of Tobacco 21, a tobacco addiction foundation working towards preventative measures in adolescence.

They also recommend creating a thousand-foot buffer around schools K-12 in order to prohibit convenience stores within that area from selling tobacco products.

The proposed ordinance would create a local tobacco retail license.

“When we make it illegal for an 18 or 19-year-old to buy tobacco from a convenience store,” Victoria Gibney said, “It makes it a lot harder for a 15 or 17-year-old sibling or friend to have access to those products.”

“One of the reasons that we focus on youth prevention when we talk about tobacco,” Gibney said, “is because 90 percent of people who smoke cigarettes started before they turned 18.”

The chair of Tobacco Free Alachua argued while it may not be a young adults intent to interact with tobacco products, its unavoidable to go to a convenience store and not be in contact with the products.

According to a recommendation letter for support, 10 of the county’s public K-12 schools have at least one retailer within a 5-minute walk from their schools.

20-year-old University of Florida student Anna Tabone said her brother would have access to tobacco products from his friends in high school that were already of age to purchase them.

“That has created a life-long habit that he’s tried to break several times,” Tabone said.

The Tobacco 21 campaign states 95 percent of smokers began smoking before turning 21.

County commissioner Mike Byerly expressed opposition to the idea of buffers.

“I cringe a little bit thinking we can ask someone to go overseas and kill people on behalf of the county and they can’t smoke a cigarette,” Byerly said. “That bothers me a little bit.”

Although, he does believe it would be useful to lump tobacco and alcohol together in terms of how the government regulates the sale of them.

“With the age being 18 for so long,” Kaitlyn Arare said, “I think people are already used to it.”

The 20-year-old student said changing the age to 21 wouldn’t really do anything.

The legal buying age of tobacco products in about 290 cities and counties in the United States is 21.

Mary Anderson asked the Alachua County Commissioners how they would enforce the ordinance.

“Money would be better served putting it in the health care system to get people off of it,” Anderson said. “I started at a young age, so a buffer zone is not going to be an effective tool.”

Mary Anderson speaks to the Alachua County Board Commissioners during a meeting that proposed a county ordinance to raise the age of tobacco sales from 18 years old to 21 years old March 27, 2018. (Kaila Jones/WUFT News)

About Kaila Jones

Kaila is a reporter who can be contacted by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.

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