Florida lawmakers consider raising legal smoking age to 21

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (CAPITOL NEWS SERVICE) - Quitting smoking is one of the most popular New Year's resolutions, but many people are still lighting up.

Photo courtesy: MGN

But, Florida lawmakers hope raising the legal smoking age to 21 will prevent teens from picking up the habit.

Kelly Blair had his first cigarette in 3rd grade. He began smoking regularly in 7th grade.

"[It was] the worst mistake of my life was starting smoking cigarettes," Blair said.

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

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

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

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

In Florida, a person can legally purchase and consume tobacco products at 18. A new proposal in the state legislature would raise the age to 21.

People under 21 caught smoking would face 20 hours of community service, a second offense doubles the hours.

People we spoke with say while the proposal may not deter everyone, if it is able to prevent some people from starting it's worth it.

"If people respect the law I think that there's some chance it might keep some people away and thus it is valuable," said Josh Carpenter, a non-smoker.

"Hopefully it would deter kids from even starting. Hopefully what I'm telling you right now deters someone out there. You know, save one person and you've done a great job," said Blair.

Under the 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.

If the legislation passes, Florida would become the sixth state to raise the legal age for tobacco to 21.