The Alachua County Board of County Commissioners approved a county-wide ordinance Tuesday prohibiting the sale of tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, to anyone younger than 21 years old in Alachua County.
The ordinance requires retailers to obtain a distribution license, valid for one year, for each separate location where tobacco products are sold. The ordinance also prohibits new retailers intending to sell tobacco from opening a location within 1,000 feet of a public K-12 school. Retailers already located near schools will not be asked to change locations but will be required to adhere to the age limit.
If retailers have a single violation, they’ll receive a seven-day license suspension. The second violation within a 24-month period results with a 30-day suspension, the third violation within a 24-month period results with a 90-day suspension and if retailers receive a fourth violation within a 24-month period they’ll get their license revoked with no option to reapply. Retailers are also required to display a notice saying, “No person under the age of 21 may be sold tobacco products.”
After reviewing the details of the ordinance, the commissioners opened the floor to comment. Nearly a dozen people spoke in support of the ordinance, and no one expressed opposition.
Tobacco Free Alachua Chairwoman Victoria Gibney told the commissioners she had been waiting for this day for nearly two years.
Gibney said Tobacco Free Alachua representatives have been meeting with commissioners every few months to update them on the national Tobacco 21 initiative which is a national campaign aimed at raising the minimum legal age for tobacco and nicotine sales in the United States to 21 years old. As of now, the only states that have raised its tobacco sales age to 21 are California, Oregon, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Maine and New Jersey.
Gibney, who has lived in Alachua County for 10 years, said the tobacco and nicotine issue has grown in importance for parents, teachers and law enforcement.
Another person who voiced her passionate support for the ordinance was 19-year-old University of Central Florida student Abby Bayacal, who drove from Orlando to Gainesville to witness the vote.
Bayacal serves as a volunteer for the Tobacco 21 initiative and first became interested in the topic during her senior year of high school when she noticed its popularity in states such as Missouri and Massachusetts but not in Florida. Since then, she’s developed a strong relationship with the organization and with the cause.
Bayacal was one of many who cheered after the board unanimously passed the ordinance.
After the vote Wendy Resnik, vice chairwoman of Tobacco Free Alachua, embraced her fellow supporters in the hallway outside the John “Jack” Durrance Auditorium.
Local tobacco shops and retailers in Alachua County were contacted after the ordinance passed, and many refused to comment. However, Curtis Cybenko, owner of local tobacco shop High Tides Tobacco & Gifts, was enthusiastic about the new ordinance. He said he’s glad young adults and teens will have a harder time buying e-cigarettes, including Juuls, which are popular with people under 21.
“I don’t sell Juuls here,” Cybenko said. “I have a problem with idiot store owners who sell Juuls to kids who’ve never even had a cigarette before.”