Martin County Votes Unanimously for Tobacco 21 and Tobacco Retail Licensing Ordinance
November 17, 2020

STUART, FL - The Martin County Commissioners voted unanimously to pass an ordinance that would raise the local age of sale for tobacco products to 21, as well as require a local license to sell products.

The age of sale increase reflects the federal law, but is the first step towards enforcing the new minimum age for purchasing tobacco products locally.  “Middle and high school youth oftentimes access their first tobacco products from older siblings and friends who are 18,” said Tobacco Free Partnership member Jennifer Ahern.  “By raising the age of sale to 21, it will be much harder for 15, 14 and 13-year olds to access these products, helping to eliminate initiation of nicotine use among vulnerable youth.”

Martin County Commission Chair, Stacey Hetherington, championed the new ordinance.

The ordinance also requires a local license for tobacco and e-cigarette retailers in Martin County, which will assist local law enforcement in compliance checks to ensure retailers aren’t selling to minors. 

Compliance checks are typically executed by the Florida ABT and FDA each year, however neither of those agencies monitor all stores, and Florida ABT can only monitor according to state statute - which is still age of sale at 18 years.

In Martin County, only 23 retailers were inspected in 2019 by the FDA.  In 2018, the Florida ABT inspected 35 retailers.  Martin County has 224 tobacco retailers according to most recent records, which does not include e-cigarette only retailers.

Stores that only sell e-cigarettes, of which there are many in Martin County, have no licensure requirement with the state of Florida, since nicotine products are not covered under the state’s definition of tobacco.  Requiring a local license will capture all retailers of nicotine products, whether they sell traditional tobacco or e-cigarettes, and will allow local law enforcement to monitor the sale of these products at all stores.

Each year, tobacco companies spend over $1.1 billion a year to market their products, which represents $8500 spent to recruit each of the new 1.3 million teenage nicotine users each year.  85% of those advertising dollars are spent directly at retail outlets.

This will go a long way towards helping us reduce youth access to tobacco products in Martin County,” added Dr. Barry Hummel, one of the founding members of the Tobacco Free Partnership. “Age restrictions alone do not work without enforcement, and frequent local enforcement with real consequences for tobacco retailers make an enormous difference.”

Dr. Barry Hummel shared data on the failure rates
among tobacco reatilers during FDA compliance checks .

The commissioners originally discussed the ordinance at the October 27 meeting, but several commissioners raised concerns over the retail licensing fee, which would be imposed on all retailers who sell nicotine products in the county.  Commissioner Hetherington, who spearheaded this ordinance, met with several local retailers to discuss their concerns.  The ordinance that was adopted in November modified the license requirement, with those stores who already pay a state licensing fee having a $0 fee for their local license.  Those retailers who have no license with the state will pay a $50 fee for a local license to sell any tobacco or nicotine product.

Stores that violate the age of sale law will face strict penalties, including a $500 fine for every offense and license suspensions.

"This, to me, is a public-health crisis," said Hetherington, who was selected as commission chair at the same meeting. "[The penalties are] something we can do here locally to enforce the compliance."

This ordinance will enable local law enforcement to regularly monitor the stores most often violating age of sale laws, helping to keep addictive products out of the hands of minors.

As commissioner Jenkins stated, “If this stops just one person from a lifetime of addiction, it will be worth it.”