Alachua County Raises Tobacco Purchasing Age to 21

Parents, students and University of Florida faculty gathered at a public hearing on Jan. 22 to speak out against the same issue: tobacco consumption by young adults.

Abby Bayacal, 19, drove several hours from the University of Central Florida in Orlando to attend the hearing in Gainesville.

“I’ve worked in youth tobacco prevention since I was 12 years old, trying to reduce the access of youth – my friends, my peers – to candy-flavored tobacco,” Bayacal said.

The Alachua County Board of Commissioners unanimously passed an ordinance raising the minimum age to purchase tobacco to 21. Alachua is the first county in Florida to pass such a law, according to News4Jax.

“The support of the board, as well as the leaders within our cities, for protecting our neighbors from the harmful effects of tobacco and nicotine has made me proud to call this area my home,” said Victoria Hunter Gibney, chair of Tobacco Free Alachua.

The ordinance was presented by Jerry Brewington, senior planner for the county. Cities have the option to opt-out of the ordinance.

There are 320 tobacco retailers in Alachua County who will be affected by the new law, Brewington said.

Lauren Cook, a second-year psychology major at UF, said she hadn’t heard of the ordinance but thought it was a good idea.

“I don’t like it when other people smoke,” she said. “It’ll be nice to not have people JUUL-ing at football games.”

While there is vocal support among members of the community, especially from those who attended the public hearing, some people are willing to point out that the ordinance isn’t a perfect solution to ending young tobacco consumption.

“I don’t think it’ll have a huge effect,” said Daniel Carvalho, a fifth-year political science major at UF. “You can still buy JUULs and tobacco products online if you’re 18.”

Major tobacco retailers like JUUL and the web-based shop Electric Tobacconist have an identity verification process that involves entering a portion of the buyer’s social security number or uploading a picture of a photo ID when completing online orders.

However, young adults can still skirt age restrictions by purchasing their products from reselling sites such as eBay.

In addition to raising the minimum purchasing age, the ordinance requires sellers of tobacco products to obtain a $230 annual license, which cannot be granted if they are within 1,000 feet of a public school. There is an exception for retailers who already sell tobacco products and do not meet the distance requirement.

Sellers will have to display a sign indicating the age restriction as well.

“It is definitely an epidemic,” said County Commissioner Ken Cornell of youth tobacco usage. “Public health is important, and the public health of our kids is the most important.”  

Violators will have their licenses suspended, according to the meeting minutes. For the fourth violation within a 24-month period, the license will be revoked. The proposal for the ordinance included ninth months of implementation, which involves setting up the licensing system and creating the signs.

“I talked to my nephew,” Cornell said. “He’s 19, and he said, ‘y’all should’ve banned this thing a long time ago.’”

The text of the ordinance makes repeated references to the impact tobacco products can have on the lives of young adults. According to the Food and Drug Administration, nearly 90 percent of adults who smoke daily started smoking by the age of 18.

Megan Hendricks, legislative chair for the Alachua County Council of PTAs, said she felt that speaking out against the use of tobacco was a PTA responsibility.

“It’s part of our mission to make every child’s potential a reality, and we can’t do that if we don’t advocate for the health of our children,” Hendricks said.