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After Federal Moves On E-Cigarettes, Some Florida Lawmakers Eye Enforcement

blonde woman in front of grey background blowing vapor out of her mouth
Sharon McCutcheon

Under a new federal law, stores cannot sell tobacco products to anyone under 21. The federal Food and Drug Administration is also limiting the sale of e-cigarette and vaping flavors. It comes as bills to do both are pending in the Florida legislature ahead of the upcoming lawmaking session. While the federal moves are welcome, anti-smoking advocates say there's plenty work left for states. 

Before Congress raised the purchasing age to 21. A number of states along with the district of Columbia and the U.S. territory of Guam had already done so. Tobacco 21 Eastern Regional Director Shannon Quinby says even with the federal moves, there’s still work states can do.

“It could be that states do pass their own Tobacco 21 laws but they’re really focused on enforcement and licensing," says Tobacco 21 Eastern Regional Director Shannon Quinby. 

The new law puts the responsibility on retailers and doesn’t punish young smokers. A similar effort in Florida failed during the last legislative session but has been refiled. Its sponsor is Republican Sen.  David Simmons.

He’s pleased with the federal government’s moves, but says “there’s still a certain amount of confusion about how far the federal legislation as well as the regulations by the FDA are—and those are just that…regulations by a governmental agency so, there’s a lot we believe, that needs to be done in protecting Floridians.”  

Those regulations don’t stop states from going further. And there are some apparent loopholes to the purchasing age provision -- like, what happens if a 21-year-old purchases a product for an 18-year-old. This, Simmons says, is what he plans on address in his bill to raise the smoking age to 21.

“I think we’re looking at the person who does the distributing to these young people. How do students in high school get vaping and other nicotine products? They get them from people around their age…we’ve got to look at ways to handle this, ways to deal with the distribution of these products to young people, and that’s something I hope to fill out in the committee meeting process and deal with that.”    

Simmons and his co-sponsor, Republican Rep. Jackie Toledo are working together on revamping their proposals to target enforcement of the new federal law.

As Congress was approving raising the purchasing age, the federal Food and Drug Administration was moving forward with a crackdown on e-cigarette flavors. It approved new rules on January 2nd effectively banning most e-cigarette flavors, except tobacco and menthol. the language only applies to devices that come pre-filled, like the popular JUUL. It doesn’t apply to products that have to be manually refilled, like the tank systems sold in vaping stores. And such stores can continue selling flavored refills. Tobacco 21  calls the FDA’s and the tobacco purchasing age law rules a compromise.

“The President had promised to clear the market of all e-cigarette products in September. He then walked that back throughout the fall and said maybe not, maybe we don’t do that," Quinby explains. 

As President Donald Trump was making suggestions on how to treat e-cigarettes and flavors, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis was suggesting the state hold off on any similar plan. Last year, the Florida Senate approved Simmons plan to raise the smoking age, but it couldn’t get through the Florida House of Representatives. This year, he’s feeling optimistic about proposals regarding the smoking age and e-cigarettes.

“The issue is not so much the flavors but the distribution and the distribution network. If in fact, the evidence shows the flavors are such an inducement for young people, that they need to be banned, I think that’s something that will be discussed in the committee process.”   

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Lynn Hatter is a Florida A&M University graduate with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Lynn has served as reporter/producer for WFSU since 2007 with education and health care issues as her key coverage areas.  She is an award-winning member of the Capital Press Corps and has participated in the NPR Kaiser Health News Reporting Partnership and NPR Education Initiative. 

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