Florida minors have tough time buying tobacco products, study shows
MIAMI -- It is tougher for minors to buy cigarettes and chewing tobacco in Florida than almost any other state, federal Food and Drug Administration statistics show.
Volunteer underage testers in Florida successfully purchased tobacco 11 percent of the time -- only Maine and Louisiana minors have a tougher time buying tobacco products, The Miami Herald reported Monday after analyzing FDA data.
Nationally, underage testers were able to purchase tobacco 25 percent of the time.
Under federal law, stores that sell to minors can be fined $250 for a first offense up to $10,000 for a fifth offense. Also, states that fail to reduce the sale rate of tobacco products to minors could lose federal funding to fight substance abuse.
But the $72 million Florida receives annually appears secure.
"It's my belief that we have changed the retail environment in Florida so it is the norm not to sell to underage rather that it being the norm to sell to underage, as it is in many other states," said Capt. Mark Willingham of the state Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco's enforcement arm.
The report comes just weeks after a state survey showed that the number of Florida middle school students who smoke dropped by almost half, falling from 15 percent in 1999 to 8.6 percent this year. The number of high school students who smoke also fell, from 25 percent in 1999 to 21 percent this year.
The decrease in underage tobacco use was credited to an aggressive anti-smoking ad campaign designed by Florida students.