New proposal would raise legal smoking age to 21

(Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images)

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Rep. Lori Berman, a Lantana Democrat, intends to move forward with a bill seeking to raise the legal age for smoking in honor of the measure's co-sponsor, Rep. Don Hahnfeldt, a Republican from The Villages who died of cancer Sunday.

“I was saddened to learn of Rep. Don Hahnfeldt's passing,” Berman tweeted Tuesday. “I was honored to have worked with him on raising the tobacco purchase age to 21 and will pursue this important issue in his legacy.”

Last week, Hahnfeldt and Berman filed a proposal (HB 1029) that would raise the legal age for smoking from 18 to 21. Florida Lawmakers hope increasing the legal smoking age to 21 will prevent teenagers from picking up the habit. Under the proposed law, people under 21 caught smoking would face 20 hours of community service. A second offense would double the hours. 

Under the new proposal, vendors who sell tobacco to people younger than 21 would face a $500 fine. Like community service for the smoker, it doubles with a second offense.

In a press release issued with Berman, and Senate sponsor David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, Hahnfeldt said raising the legal age “will save a projected early loss of life of 270,000 young lives and $8.6 billion in health care costs, as well as $8.3 billion in productivity losses.”

Quitting smoking is considered one of the most popular New Year’s Resolutions, but every year, 7,400 people make smoking a daily habit. If the Legislation passes, Florida would become the sixth state to raise the legal age for tobacco to 21.

Thanks in part to a concentrated effort by Tobacco Free Florida, the rate of smoking among young Floridians has dropped 71 percent in the last decade. 

“We have about 15 percent of Florida's adults who are still smoking and only about 3 percent of youth,“ Kellie O'Dare with Tobacco Free Florida said. 

The drop in tobacco use has saved Florida taxpayers $18 billion in smoking-related health costs.

“We can look at about 30 percent of cancers being attributable to cigarette smoking,” O'Dare said.