Bipartisan bill could raise Florida's legal smoking age

By Troy Kinsey, Capitol Bureau Reporter
Last Updated: Friday, December 22, 2017, 8:39 AM EST

Seeking to stem the ranks of longtime smokers who begin lighting up in their formative years, a bipartisan coalition of lawmakers have filed bills to raise Florida's legal smoking age from 18 to 21.

  • Florida bill could raise legal smoking age to 21
  • Raising smoking age could reduce cigarette tax revenue
  • 80 percent of adult smokers started before 18

If the legislation (SB 1288/HB 1029) were to become law, Florida would join five other states that have recently raised their tobacco ages to 21.

Nearly three hundred localities, including New York City, Chicago and Boston, have also implemented ordinances banning smoking by anyone under 21.

"Raising the legal age will save a projected early loss of life of 270,000 young lives at $8.6 billion in health care costs," Rep. Don Hahnfeldt (R-The Villages), one of the sponsors of HB 1029, said in a statement.

The federally-funded National Survey on Drug Use and Health has found nearly 80 percent of adult smokers began lighting up before turning 18.

Because people purchasing cigarettes would have to look three years older, the legislation could have the effect of reducing unintentional sales to minors.

The proposal comes as good news to Hope Carrasquilla, a mother of three boys whose oldest son is 15. She questioned the logic of keeping Florida's legal smoking age at 18 when the drinking age is 21, noting that three additional years of maturation can help young adults make better life choices.

"I think it has to do with money. You know, we subsidize the tobacco farmers and such, and it's a big moneymaker," Carrasquilla said. "They want to get 'em as young as they can and get them hooked as soon as they possibly can, and everyone knows it's a very addictive substance."

But the bills might not enjoy universal support.

Maine Gov. Paul LePage recently vetoed legislation to raise his state's smoking age to 21, calling it an attempt to "social engineer our lives" and arguing that if 18-year-olds can vote and serve in the military, they should be able to choose whether to smoke.

The veto was ultimately overridden by lawmakers, though some conservatives in the Florida Legislature could share LePage's sentiments.

Raising the smoking age could also reduce cigarette tax revenues. That, in turn, could further weaken the state's financial footing, a scenario many lawmakers are looking to avoid as state economists warn of likely budget deficits.

The proposal's supporters, however, say the health care savings that could accompany a higher smoking age would easily counteract any hit to the state budget.

"Approximately 1.5 million packs of cigarettes are purchased for minors annually," said Rep. Lori Berman (D-Boynton Beach). "I am hopeful this bill will prevent our youth from taking up the tobacco habit."