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Vape Flavor Ban Heads To Governor

Frank Augstein
AP Photo

Vaping has become a problem amongst teens, so much so that the federal government has chosen to raise the legal age to smoke tobacco to 21, which includes vaping. Now, legislators in Florida are sending a law to Governor Ron DeSantis that would implement that federal change, and a lot more.

Vaping devices have become popular over the years with some companies selling flavored pods that some say make it attractive to kids. Those same kids are now using the vaporizers at an alarming rate. St. Petersburg Democratic Representative Jennifer Webb said she learned how serious the issue was when being visited by high school and middle school students in her office.

“I was horrified when they said things like, oh I’ve never smoked a cigarette they’re too strong I just get my nicotine from a vaping pen, Oh vaping is really cool because you can have the experience of eating cotton candy without the calories," Webb said.

Rep. Randy Fine (R-Palm Bay) brought statistics.

"5%, 1 in 20 middle schoolers... were vaping two years ago. That’s pretty bad but it ain’t that anymore, last year it was 11% it doubled in one year," Fine said.

Several lawmakers agree raising the smoking age to 21 is the right move. But Rep. Alex Andrade (R-Pensacola) believes people are overreacting.

“I think there’s been a lot of confusion and kneejerk reactions across the country in response to vapor related illnesses and vaping related deaths," Andrade said. For context, there were 480,000 tobacco and smoking related deaths in Florida last year. There were 33 vaping related deaths nationwide.”

Andrade thinks the bill should be focused on strictly tobacco rather than nicotine which hasn’t been the causing factor in vaping-related deaths.

"Defining nicotine as tobacco is arbitrary. It’s the same as defining my Coca-Cola as a coffee product because it derives caffeine from a coffee product," Andrade said. "Deriving nicotine down to what we normally understand to be nicotine product is ham-fisted policy."

Andrade was happy to vote on an amendment that would have fixed most of what he says is wrong with the bill.

"If Senate bill 810 had actually passed 18 to 20 year olds would not have been allowed to work in gas stations and sell those nicotine and vaping products at all", Andrade said.

But he says there was still work needed on it after the amendment.

"This bill still needs a lot of work and my hope is when we send it over to the Senate they take these notes and actually correct it." Andrade said. "For instance, in section 1 and 2 of even of the amendment we still refer to a third-degree misdemeanor, which has not existed in Florida law for several years."

That work was never done by the Senate. They concurred the House and have sent the measure to Governor Ron DeSantis. But whether he will approve it is still up in the air when asked if he wanted a flavor ban in February DeSantis said he was opposed to going further than the federal government which hasn’t banned all flavored products.

"The federal governments doing stuff but I don’t think we need to do anything beyond what’s been done there," DeSantis said. "Sometimes I think we maybe get a little ahead of where the science may be on this. So we’ll see. But I don’t have any plans to ask for any new restrictions on vaping."

The Florida bill bans flavors with an exemption. That process is explained by Tampa Republican Representative Jackie Toledo.

"Right now you would have to go through a federal approval process to have a flavor vape product whether it’s for a mod or a pod with our bill," Toledo said.

The ban would only allow tobacco and menthol flavored nicotine products to be sold.

Blaise Gainey is a State Government Reporter for WFSU News. Blaise hails from Windermere, Florida. He graduated from The School of Journalism at the Florida A&M University. He formerly worked for The Florida Channel, WTXL-TV, and before graduating interned with WFSU News. He is excited to return to the newsroom. In his spare time he enjoys watching sports, Netflix, outdoor activities and anything involving his daughter.