Measure To Penalize Underage Tobacco Use Advances In Senate

Jan 22, 2020

A new federal law bans anyone less than 21-years-old from purchasing tobacco products--including vaporizers. Meanwhile, state lawmakers are considering new legislation aimed at enforcing that law. But some say the state's proposed penalties aren’t harsh enough to be effective.

Credit Balint Radu

Last month, Congress approved raising the age limit to buy e-cigarettes and tobacco to 21.

Florida lawmakers made a similar attempt last session. Sen. David Simmons (Longwood-R) said his goal was to stop kids from smoking.

"As many as 30% of our youth are in fact, and that’s high school students, are actually vaping," said Simmons.

Simmons says increases in teen vaping stem from online sales, as well as kids selling to other kids.

“How does a person who is in high school, how do our youth get this significant amount of vaping products?" asked Simmons. "They get it from the people that are close to them--a person that is 18 and 19 years of age.”

This year Simmons is pushing a new bill aimed at giving more teeth to the recently passed federal rules. It would create a $25 fine for anyone selling to a person under 21 and require the offender to attend an anti-tobacco program. Another $25 penalty would be imposed if a person violates again within 12 weeks. Those who fail to pay could have their drivers licenses suspended.

But those in favor of the bill don’t think the penalties go far enough.

“If we’re going to be combatting youth access and usage, we need stronger enforcement for youth for breaking the law," explained vape shop owner Jonathan Risteen. "A $25 fine is all that’s in place for a youth to possess a product illegally. You get more of a fine if you speed."

The bill also gives the same penalty to adults that give nicotine products to a person under 21. In fact, Risteen believes the bill hurts vape store owners the most.

“When it comes to the bad players that are actually providing these products to youth, an overwhelming majority, according to the FDA, are convenience stores, gas stations, big box stores and so on. Under 3% of infractions for youth sales are at vape brick and motor shops," added Risteen.

Risteen says the proposal hurts his business by requiring vape stores to get a permit.

“We have to require ID’s for every single purchase at this point in time for anyone that looks under 27 years old," explained Risteen.

Risteen says the bill also pushes people to buy products online, which he believes is more dangerous. To combat that, the bill requires a person to show ID and sign for a package containing nicotine or tobacco products. Opponents argue that requirement would increase shipping costs. But Sen. Lauren Book (D-Plantation) says that’s a small fee to pay to ensure safety.

"In terms of some of the other provisions that folks have trouble with signing and providing an ID adding $16 dollars to a purchase, I sign for shoes when I order them and they’re a certain cost," explained Book.

Simmons says he will work to address the concerns raised, but adds the actions taken are in response to an advisory from United States Surgeon General. He read some of in his closing.

“In bold statement we must take action now to protect the health of our nations young people," read Simmons.

In that same advisory the Surgeon General declared e-cigarette use among kids an epidemic.

The measure has two more committee stops in the Senate. A similar bill in the house hasn’t been heard yet.