The Florida Senate voted 33-6 in favor of a bill that would raise the minimum age to purchase tobacco products from 18 to 21. The bill received support as a means to stop the increasing number of teenagers using e-cigarettes and tobacco products. While almost everyone agrees that smoking is unhealthy, this bill isn’t the right way to curb tobacco use.
Placing this extra restriction on purchasing tobacco products is an infringement on personal freedom, something you think Florida Republicans wouldn’t support. However, like many things, Republicans support liberty until there is any financial burden on them. Randy Fine from the Florida House of Representatives, whose district covers southern Brevard County, cites one of the main reasons for supporting the bill is that it would lower taxpayer costs for Medicare.
“The debate is not just about freedom,” Fine said. “What crosses the line for me is when I’m asked to pay for other people’s liberty.”
But we don’t get to directly pick and choose what we want our tax dollars supporting. People have to pay taxes toward public schools even if they don’t have a child. People have to pay taxes funding local libraries even if they don’t use them. It doesn’t matter if you like what your taxes go toward, you still have to pay them.
While Fine may not want to pay the Medicare costs for people who smoke, he has to. It's not fair to restrict the usage of tobacco on the basis of it being a financial burden for the taxpayer. If Florida politicians are worried about high taxes there are plenty of other means to limit the tax burden for the middle class without compromising the civil liberties of all citizens (e.g. raising taxes on the wealthy).
Not only is the bill an infringement on personal liberties, but it assigns fault to addicts. The bill penalizes the youth suffering from addiction, instead of the real culprit: Big Tobacco.
This bill has an unfair exemption for active military members. Active members of the military would be able to purchase tobacco at the age of 18 and up (rather than 21). There is no logical reason to make this exemption other than as a means of giving active service members some sort of “benefit.” While giving benefits to military members is great, it shouldn’t be done in a way that makes them above the law. Giving military members discounts on movie and airplane tickets? Great. Giving them a get out of jail free card? Not so much. Service members are simply no different than every other citizen and therefore should not be above any law.
This bill would also affect the ability of doctors to prescribe medical marijuana. Currently, you must be 18 to be prescribed medical marijuana in Florida. This bill would increase the age minimum to 21. Grouping medical marijuana with recreational tobacco products suggests medical marijuana isn’t a viable treatment when there is so much evidence suggesting otherwise. Medical marijuana can help treat the symptoms of seizures, Crohn's disease, nausea from cancer chemotherapy and more. Doctors should have the ability to prescribe medical marijuana to young adults at their own discretion.
Should this bill become law, it likely won’t even have the intended effect. There is no systematic research showing that increasing the smoking age prevents young adults from using tobacco products. Florida lawmakers would be better off investing in programs to teach youth about the harmful effects of tobacco products rather than passing a restrictive and unreasonable ban.
Cassidy Hopson is a UF journalism junior. Her column usually appears on Thursdays.
Read the other side of this week’s “Dueling Opinions” here.