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Sunday, March 07, 2021

Alachua County Commission raises age to buy tobacco, ends prisoner labor

<p id="docs-internal-guid-8300b5a1-7fff-77d6-91dc-625d644bb0b5" dir="ltr"><span>About 40 people marched from the Civic Meeting Center, at</span> <span>433 S. Main St.,</span> <span>to the County Commission Hearing at the</span> <span>Alachua County Administration Building, at 12 SE First St., to discuss</span> <span>the county’s contract for prison labor.</span></p>

About 40 people marched from the Civic Meeting Center, at 433 S. Main St., to the County Commission Hearing at the Alachua County Administration Building, at 12 SE First St., to discuss the county’s contract for prison labor.

The Alachua County Commission voted Tuesday night to raise the minimum age to buy tobacco products and voted to end using prisoners for county labor.

Alachua County became the first county in Florida to raise the minimum age to buy tobacco from 18 to 21 after the commission unanimously voted to pass the ordinance. Tobacco products include cigarettes, e-cigarettes, chewing tobacco and vapes.

Alachua County joins six states and about 450 cities and municipalities to adopt Tobacco 21, the national movement to increase the minimum tobacco age, said Wendy Resnick, the Tobacco Free Alachua vice chair.

The ordinance will be implemented county-wide in about nine months, allowing time to inform retailers about the change, according to a presentation shown at the meeting. Cities have the option to opt-out.

Businesses will need to get an annual license from the county to sell tobacco and could face suspensions if they continue to sell to those under 21.

Alvi Showkat, a 19-year-old UF material science freshman, said raising the age will make no difference in teenagers’ smoking.

“I think it’s kind of pointless because even if they raise the age, people will have other means to get it via asking other people, like friends who are 21 to get it for them,” he said.

Before the meeting, about 40 residents carried signs, some saying “Solidarity” and “End Prison Slavery at UF,” and banged drums as they marched their way to the Alachua County Administration Building from the Civic Media Center in protest of the county’s use of prison workers with the Department of Corrections.

The commission voted 4-1 to end its road and bridge labor contract with the corrections department and use full-time employees instead. County Commissioner Mike Byerly voted against the ordinance.

“If those positive reforms don’t come, then we’ve made a really bad mistake,” he said.

The county uses prisoners from department work camps for road and bridge work, but the county does not pay the prisoners, said Ramon Gavarrete, the county public works engineer, during the meeting. Instead, the county pays for maintenance supervisors. The county has not yet decided on a date to end prisoner labor work.

On average, about 10 inmates per day worked for the county in 2018, Gavarrete said.

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The reform may cost the county $1.24 million, Gavarrete said. This includes the hiring of 20 full-time employees for about $500,000.

The meeting was filled with responses from the community and members of the local Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee chapter, who marched before the meeting.

Ryan Thomson, a 29-year-old UF sociology doctoral student, said this decision has been a long time coming.

“This barbaric practice has no place here, whether it’s in the county, city or university levels,” Thomson said.

About 40 people marched from the Civic Meeting Center, at 433 S. Main St., to the County Commission Hearing at the Alachua County Administration Building, at 12 SE First St., to discuss the county’s contract for prison labor.

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