Legislators love to hate tobacco.
In recent years, politicians at every level of government from the Federal Food and Drug Administration to the Alachua County Commission have reignited their hatred for the plant and set their sights on a new policy goal: the elimination of teen vaping, a trend repeatedly dubbed an “epidemic.” Is the increasing number of young people chemically dependent on nicotine alarming? Absolutely, but the measures proposed to counter this trend are often troubling in their own right, as is the case with a new Alachua County ordinance.
In January, Alachua County legislators passed a bill that would outlaw the sale — but not possession — of tobacco products to those under 21, require licensing to sell tobacco products, and prohibit licensed tobacco retailers from operating within 1,000 feet of a public school. The ordinance takes effect in October, and a similar bill was passed earlier this year by the Florida Senate but was never taken up by the House.
Despite not smoking or vaping myself, I am vehemently opposed to the new law solely on principle. The county has decided that it should stand between a legal adult and a business and prevent them from engaging in a voluntary transaction involving nicotine for the sake of “the children” and public health.
I’m a staunch Libertarian. Any time government considers doing basically anything, I’m not fond of it. But nanny state measures like the Alachua County ordinance are antithetical to the American ideal that dangerous freedom is preferable to peaceful tyranny, and out of line with the county’s progressive ethos of respecting personal autonomy. Some would describe branding the new measure as tyrannical as being a bit extreme, and perhaps it is. But where do we draw the line when it comes to infringing on the freedoms of legal adults and social engineering via legislation? Why stop at nicotine? Why not set a limit on soda sizes as was done in New York City or place sin taxes on soda like in Philadelphia? What if we subsidized gym memberships to encourage people to adopt a healthier lifestyle? How about we regulate the marketing of video games to minors now that the World Health Organization recognizes video game addiction as a psychiatric disorder? This is the same county that now allows its sheriffs to issue citations for cannabis possession rather than arrest people, but will go out of its way to make sure adults can’t legally purchase nicotine within its jurisdiction. The county’s approach to public health is not only wrongheaded, it’s wildly inconsistent.
The new tobacco law is another example of a legislature trying to outlaw something that’s already illegal. Minors already couldn’t legally possess nicotine prior to the law, but they got ahold of it anyway through either unscrupulous store employees or peers that were of age.
Despite this, the county has chosen to punish everyone rather than hold the people responsible for the nicotine divergence accountable.
Cameron White is a UF computer science senior.