Introduction by Michael Joe Murphy
Should the state of Florida raise the legal age to buy cigarettes?
A push to raise the legal smoking age to 21 is a growing movement across the country. Five states — California, Hawaii, Maine, New Jersey and Oregon — have increased the legal age to 21, as well as more than 250 municipalities nationwide.
If the proposal becomes law in Florida, vendors that sell to those younger than 21 would be fined as much as $500 for a first offense and up to $1,000 for a second. For those underage who are buying, the fine would be community service — 20 hours for a first offense and 40 hours for a second offense if it happened within the same year.
Proponents of raising the age to buy tobacco from 18 to 21 say the state of Florida alone spends $17 billion on health-care costs and lost productivity from tobacco-related diseases, and many smokers take up the habit in their teenage years. Opponents warn the crackdown will increase lawbreaking and defiance.
To debate whether to raise the age to buy tobacco from 18 to 21, we recruited:
A. Wayne Rich, a lawyer and a member of the American Heart Association Board, who supports raising the buying age.
James Coffin, executive director, Interfaith Council of Central Florida. Although he has led smoking-cessation programs and is against smoking, he opposes raising the buying age because of philosophical concerns.
Guest Commentary: Making young-adult tobacco use illegal isn’t the answer
By James Coffin
Both houses of the Florida Legislature may soon vote on bills that would raise from 18 to 21 the state’s legal age for tobacco-product purchase, possession and use. It sounds like a positive move, doesn’t it?
After all, smoking, the most visible form of tobacco use, is highly addictive, pollutes the environment, destroys health, dramatically increases health-care costs, diminishes on-the-job productivity and is in general a nasty, dirty, stinky habit.
And that’s in addition to all the fires ignited by cigarette carelessness, which cause untold millions of dollars’ worth of property damage and at times result in injury or death. And we should mention the 480,000 Americans who die each year from smoking and the 41,000 who die from exposure to secondhand smoke.
Truth be known, I’m unreservedly anti-tobacco. Moreover, I commend our legislators for at least recognizing the highly destructive character of tobacco and the need to seek ways to mitigate its negative impact. That said, however, I must add that the solution being proposed achieves less, and is more fraught with downsides, than many may realize.
In the case of cigarettes, ongoing anti-smoking education, the warnings printed on cigarette packages, the social stigma attached to smoking and the increasingly restrictive legislation about where smoking is permissible have definitely made a difference. The percentage of the U.S. population who smoke dropped from an all-time high of more than 50 percent to 15.1 percent by 2015.
Nevertheless, a lot of 18-, 19- and 20-year-olds (and younger) smoke. But here’s the reality: They’re not going to lose their addiction just because some new law says that smoking is now illegal. If we think otherwise, we obviously don’t understand the dynamics of addiction.
Underage smokers already ensure a thriving black market for cigarettes. Often the suppliers are “scofflaw” friends or family members. Others, however, seize the opportunity to jack up the price and make a profit. But one thing is sure: Black-market tobacco sales will increase dramatically when the 18-, 19- and 20-year-olds who currently smoke legally suddenly feel forced to feed their habit illegally.
So we’ll need an array of punishments. The Senate version of the new law proposes 20 hours of community service for a user’s first offense. Forty hours if the user gets caught again. Such penalties will require oversight, which costs money. And such punishments engender anti-authority attitudes, which easily translate into antisocial behavior — which also costs society.
Additionally, the proposed law, by its very nature, will be unevenly enforced — if enforced at all. Thus the youthful tobacco users who do get caught will feel victimized.
Laws are more respected when they fit into a cohesive, rational framework. So how do we explain why an 18-year-old male is mature enough to register for the selective service or join the Army and go off to war, and why an 18-year-old female can give sexual consent and can marry without parental permission — but when it comes to using tobacco products, neither the 18-year-old male or female is mature enough for that decision?
I repeat: I’m opposed to smoking, chewing, snuffing or whatever other way people choose to introduce tobacco into their system. But as history should have taught us, prohibition isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. It creates an array of unanticipated consequences. And so will removing the long-held legal right for Florida’s 18- 19- and 20-year-olds to smoke.
A concerted strategy of education and inspiration can make a far greater long-term impact than the raw coercion of an all-out prohibition enforced by punishment.
James Coffin is executive director of the Interfaith Council of Central Florida.
Guest Commentary: Florida, raise the smoking age to 21
By A. Wayne Rich
When did you or your loved one start smoking? Odds are it was at a young age.
Ninety-five percent of smokers began their addiction before the age of 21. Tobacco sales to this age group make up just 2 percent of the market, yet it produces the overwhelming majority of lifetime smokers.
Delaying the introduction of nicotine — by increasing the minimum legal sale age for tobacco and electronic smoking devices to age 21 — is imperative if we want to help prevent lifetimes of addiction and save lives.
Because nicotine is so addictive, experimentation or initiation of tobacco use among children and young adults is particularly troublesome: According to the American Journal of Psychiatry, during this critical period for growth and development, the brain may be especially sensitive to nicotine. The younger people are when they smoke their first cigarette, the more likely they will be smokers for life.
Early signs of heart disease and stroke are found in young people who smoke. And one in every three young smokers will die of a smoking-related illness or disease. That is an incredibly sad, scary and real statistic, and why the American Heart Association cares so deeply about this change.
I am encouraged by the actions of Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs; Rep. Lori Berman, D-Boynton Beach; and Rep. Bill Hager, R-Boca Raton — they are lead sponsors on a bill that would increase the minimum legal sale age for tobacco and electronic smoking devices to 21, reducing our Florida youth’s access to and use of these deadly products.
Even the majority of smokers in the military began before age 21, according to Department of Defense data. The minimum age for military service does not equate to readiness to enlist in a lifetime of smoking. This is why Rep. Don Hahnfeldt, one of the bill’s original sponsors in Florida and a veteran himself, was a strong advocate before his untimely death.
The U.S. Army Surgeon General says soldiers who smoke are less combat ready and take longer to heal. And Gen. Robert Magnus, assistant commandant of the Marine Corps, has stated, “Tobacco impairs reaction time and judgment. It stands in the way of a Marine’s number one priority: to be in top physical and mental shape — combat ready.”
Increasing the minimum legal sale age is proven and precedented. In 2005, Needham, Mass., voted to raise and enforce the minimum tobacco sales age of 21. Before, the town had a youth smoking rate of 13 percent. By 2010, its youth smoking rate was down to 6.7 percent.
Five states — California, New Jersey, Oregon, Hawaii and Maine — have raised the tobacco age to 21, along with at least 285 localities, including New York City, Chicago, Boston, Cleveland and both Kansas Cities. Some of the 285 localities are in the states that subsequently enacted statewide laws.
Increasing the minimum tobacco age could also greatly reduce the likelihood that a high-school student will be able to legally purchase tobacco products for underage friends. Research has shown that kids often turn to older friends and classmates as sources of cigarettes.
I am grateful for all Rep. Hahnfeldt, R-The Villages, did to champion this issue before his passing, and I am thankful for the leadership of the lawmakers keeping his mission alive.
About 350 kids under the age of 18 become regular smokers each day — one in three will eventually die as a result. We should do everything we can to prevent young people from smoking and save lives. Increasing the tobacco age to 21 will help achieve these goals.
A. Wayne Rich is Counsel with Broad and Cassel and a member of the American Heart Association Board.