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Florida Legislature passes bill to raise age for smoking, vaping to 21

Time: 2020-04-21 09:55:05


TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WWSB) - With little time remaining in the 2020 legislative session, Florida lawmakers approved a proposal that would largely bring the state into compliance with federal laws about electronic cigarettes.

Senate President Bill Galvano made addressing what health officials call a youth vaping “epidemic” one of his top priorities for the session.

Late Thursday evening, the Senate passed a measure (SB 810) that would identify e-cigarettes and vaping products as “tobacco products” and raise the age to purchase any tobacco products --- including tobacco cigarettes, dip and chew, as well as e-cigarettes --- from 18 to 21.

The age hike would bring Florida in line with a federal law that went into effect in January, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has defined “electronic nicotine delivery systems” as tobacco products since 2016.

The Senate’s 27-9 vote, after little floor discussion, came a day after the House tweaked and then approved the measure.

“I am very pleased and appreciate the House taking up the bill,” Galvano, R-Bradenton, told The News Service of Florida in an email following the Senate vote.

The House and Senate had been at odds over the legislation throughout the 60-day session, which was scheduled to end Friday but will run overtime because of budget-related items.

House Speaker José Oliva, whose family made its fortune in the cigar industry, had balked at raising to 21 the age to use tobacco products. But the Miami Lakes Republican reversed course, after the Senate passed an initial version of the bill.

A compromise in the final version of the bill would create a separate “liquid nicotine product” category for products “composed of nicotine and other chemicals or substances” which are “sold or offered for sale for use with a vapor-generating electronic device.”

Senate sponsor David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, said the proposal would break tobacco products into what he called “traditional tobacco products,” such as cigarettes, and “nicotine products,” such as electronic cigarettes.

The measure also would have originally required retailers who sell e-cigarettes and vaping products to pay the same $50 permit fee to the Department of Business and Professional Regulation as retailers that sell cigarettes and other tobacco products.

But the House stripped that provision from the bill on Wednesday.

Under the measure en route to Gov. Ron DeSantis, retailers that exclusively sell e-cigarettes and vaping products would not have to pay a permit fee to the state. Retailers would have to pay the $50 fee, however, if they sell traditional tobacco products, such as cigarettes, dip and snuff.

“The House has done away with the need for that” $50 permit, Simmons told the Senate before Thursday’s vote.

Retailers who don’t sell what he called “traditional” tobacco products “don’t have to pay the fee,” he explained.

The proposal mirrors federal law by banning flavored vape products, with the exception of menthol or tobacco flavors. Health officials have accused e-cigarette manufacturers of targeting teens with flavors and packaging designed to appeal to young people.

The legislation says a person “may not sell, deliver, barter, furnish, or give, directly or indirectly, flavored liquid nicotine products to any other person.” Outlawed flavors identified in the measure include “fruit, chocolate, vanilla, honey, candy, cocoa, a dessert, an alcoholic beverage, an herb or a spice, or any combination thereof.”

The House had been considering a plan that would have regulated vape shops but would not have raised the age to 21 to use tobacco products.

A variety of public health organizations --- including the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, the American Heart Association, the American Lung Association and the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids --- had endorsed the Senate strategy and condemned the House’s approach.

Oliva recently said he had an “ideological” objection to the age hike.

“An adult is 18 years old. An adult can stand trial and be put to death. An adult can be sent to war. An adult can enter into contracts. Adults can do all of these things. But then we decide, for some things you’re only somewhat of an adult. You need to be more of an adult than you are right now. So, I generally hesitate on ideological reasons on things like that,” Oliva told reporters on Feb. 27.

But last week, Oliva said, “We like what they have over there,” referring to the Senate.

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