State News
6:40 pm
Fri December 6, 2013

Could Smoking Bans Aimed At Kids Be Next Issue Lawmakers Plan To Tackle For 2014?

There are a number of measures restricting smoking that have already been filed for the Florida’s 2014 legislative session—so far, all aimed at kids. So, what's the driving force behind all these smoking bans?

Florida's Smoking Ban Bills Filed For 2014

"Smoking bans are pretty good politics because efforts that protect kids from smoking are pretty popular [among voters] on both sides of the aisle."

Last month, the Senate Regulated Industries committee voted unanimously on the Senate Majority Leader Lizbeth Benacquisto’s proposal to ban minors from buying E-cigarettes.

Electronic cigarettes look like cigarettes, except they’re powered by battery and allows users to inhale vaporized nicotine. There’s been an ongoing debate as to whether E-cigarettes are safer than regular cigarettes.  Still, more than half the states in the nation have some sort of ban in place against the sale of the electronic cigarettes to minors.

But hers is not the only smoking bill aimed at minors. Jacksonville Republican Representative Charles McBurney wants to ban smoking in cars when kids are inside.

“It began when a young couple with small children came to me and expressed some concerns and saw some young people with car seats of actually seeing where younger persons were smoking with kids with car seats in the back and then I did some research and found some pretty disturbing statistics,” said McBurney.

“Whether you like it not, it’s a legal product. And, adults can make their own decisions. But, children, they really don’t have a choice many times, being the passenger in the vehicle."

But that’s not all the smoking legislation. Fleming Island Republican Senator Rob Bradley is trying to continue his failed legislative effort from last year to allow local governments more leeway to implement their own bans. He admits this year’s ban is watered down, but says it still gets the point across.

“Last year’s bill was broader than this year’s bill and it met resistance from my friends in the House. They felt as if the bill was too broad. So, I scaled back the bill this year to only address playgrounds in the hopes of having some legislation successfully pass this year,” said Bradley.

It’s a bipartisan proposal he filed along with Plantation Democratic Representative Katie Edwards, who’s said she wants to outlaw the practice on playgrounds and beaches.

Possible Reasoning Behind Smoking Ban Bills

So, is it a coincidence that several smoking bills have been filed in the same session?

“This [Secondhand smoke inhalation] is something that we certainly don’t want to see and I think that’s why you’re seeing legislation. Let’s not solve one problem, at the same time as creating another problem. Let’s address it, and address it now,” said Pasco County Tax Collector Mike Fasano.

Fasano is a former lawmaker who served in both the House and Senate for about 20 years. During the era of Florida’s pill mill crisis, he was one of several lawmakers who filed legislation to cut down on prescription drug abuse in the state. Fasano says state lawmakers may now be turning toward what they see as the next crisis: smoking that could harm kids. Still, he says another goal may be saving money.

“For those that use tobacco or tobacco products, sadly, and unfortunately, one day, they’re going to need medical assistance and medical care because of the products they use—they’re all very addictive and deadly—and eventually, if we don’t address the problem, it will cost the taxpayers in the long run and they’ll have to foot the bill,” said Fasano.

“You know, politicians always look for issues where there aren’t too many people you’re going to irritate by adopting them,” said Kevin Wagner, a Florida Atlantic University Political Professor.

Wagner says that’s why legislative efforts to implement smoking bans aimed at children make for what he calls “pretty good politics.”

“Smoking bans are pretty good politics because efforts that protect kids from smoking are pretty popular with the electorate on both sides of the aisle. So, it’s an easy enemy to legislate against with very little consequence," he added.

“From a Libertarian standpoint, smoking bans are somewhat problematic because they infringe on individual freedoms to make choices, even choices that many of us wouldn’t perceive as the healthiest or best choice. And, government’s role in doing that is debatable. But, when the bans are aimed at kids, it’s much harder for even a Libertarian to argue against this."

Over the past several sessions, lawmakers have seemed to write spates of bills aimed at cracking down on what seemed like the most pressing issue at that moment, such as Florida’s pill mill crisis. But, Wagner says he doesn’t see the same reasoning behind the smoking ban bills.

“Well, a smoking ban is a little less serious and a little easier to pass than pill mills.  And, one thing we know about Legislatures is they go for the low hanging fruit if they can,” stated Wagner.

But, he says whether they’ll be effective is another question altogether. Florida also already has a smoking ban for enclosed indoor workplaces, though it got on the books as a constitutional amendment, meaning Florida voters had the final say, not lawmakers. 

For more news updates, follow Sascha Cordner on twitter @SaschaCordner.