Here’s an interesting debate that I would love to see played out in Florida.
In their desire to save lives and improve health, some communities elsewhere have raised to 21 the minimum age for anyone to buy tobacco. It’s led to a reduction in teenage smoking, although some folks worry that it’s another case of the Nanny State run amok.
Tobacco is one of those slippery slopes that can be tricky to navigate for liberals and conservatives alike.
Conservatives want to let folks smoke if they wish — provided we don’t have to pay for their almost-inevitable medical bills. And liberals want to protect us from ourselves, second-hand smoke and other people’s health care costs, and so what if you lose a bit of personal freedom to do something stupid.
Imagine if tobacco had just been created in 2014 and people were about to begin smoking. Today’s scientists would have soon detected the poisonous effects and called for a ban on tobacco, and most Americans would readily agree to bar a product that, as they say, kills you when used legally.
But the cow is out of the barn on that issue, and about 19.3 percent of adult Floridians today use tobacco, according to worldlifeexpectancy.com, which has a state-by-state comparison.
Kentucky is the weediest of all states, with 29 percent smokers, while Utah is a mere 11.8 percent.
Of course, Utah has issues of its own, what with its attitudes toward social issues. We now know that the beard is officially dead among hipsters; Brigham Young University is considering a rule change that would allow its students to wear beards.
Beards, but not mustaches, have been banned on campus since the 1970s lest people think BYU was one of those radical hippie college campuses where students protested against war and in favor of equal rights for women and minorities and other craziness.
There are many good reasons to raise the age to 21 for people to buy cigarettes. It’s a legitimate health issue. Remember the wave of teen drunkenness that swept states when they lowered the drinking age to 18, only to raise it back to 21? Many young people aren’t any better equipped to handle cigarettes than they handle alcohol.
It would force communities to debate health issues and focus on a behavior that costs society many billions of dollars each year. Figure out the cost of a pack-a-day habit from age 18 to age 55, for example, and you will be amazed how much more wealth a nonsmoker enjoys than smoker. A pack was $7.13 today at my local Circle K.
Even if communities don’t care about health, they should care about the dollars and cents of smoking. In the Greater Pensacola area alone (Escambia and Santa Rosa counties), there are more than 98,000 smokers. The cost to employers from those employed smokers exceeds $490 million in the two counties each year, according to Partnership for a Healthy Community, which is leading a tobacco-cessation effort.
That’s a lot of money going up in smoke.
Mark O’Brien is a writer in Pensacola. Column courtesy of Context Florida.