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Vaping pulled out of Tobacco 21 bill and put in new bill; both pass Senate panel

The vaping age restriction now has its own bill.

A bill intended to raise the minimum age to 21 for both tobacco and vaping usage was split into two bills Monday — and both then were approved by the Senate Committee on Innovation, Industry, and Technology.

The result is that the age increase for vaping now is included in SB 1394, new legislation filed to incorporate the vaping component, and is on a separate track from SB 810, which now only deals with increasing the age for smoking.

Both bills would bring Florida regulation in line with new federal guidelines, which raised minimum ages for smoking and vaping to 21 in December.

But, along the way, SB 810’s sponsor, Republican Sen. David Simmons of Altamonte Springs, found himself battling two challenges. First, bringing vaping under state regulation with any teeth would require a regulatory fee of $50, meaning the issue would have to be dealt with in a separate bill, one that eventually will require a two-thirds majority approval in both chambers of the Legislature.

Simmons addressed that Monday by stripping vaping out of SB 810 and putting it into SB 1394.

The other issue is backlash from vape shop owners who don’t want to be grouped with tobacco peddlers in state regulations, and who fear ensuing taxation won’t stop at the $50 a year fee required for basic state oversight. Simmons insisted that tobacco-like excise taxes would require separate bills and separate two-thirds votes, under the Florida Constitution amendment approved in 2018, so such fears were unreasonable, at least as relates to SB 1394.

SB 810 passed 8-1. Its ultimate fate may now be cleared for approval as the elimination of the vaping components essentially carved the most controversial portions out of the bill. The opposition left on Monday appeared mostly to hinge on confusion over what Simmons’ intentions were.

Numerous representatives of vape shop retailers spoke against SB 1394. Most said they supported the increased age to 21 but strongly opposed the regulatory nature of the bill. They argued they were an answer to tobacco health problems and shouldn’t be regulated like tobacco.  The committee approved HB 1394 6-2.

The House companion is HB 151, sponsored by Rep. Jackie Toledo, a Tampa Republican.

Simmons emphatically insisted Monday that, except for the $50 a year regulatory fee now proposed in SB 1394 for vape product retailers, there is no intention for either bill beyond bringing the minimum age of purchase up to 21. That would put Florida law in line with the federal law change approved by Congress and signed into law by President Donald Trump in December. That provision actually was included in the federal defense spending bill, and a week later the FDA approved regulations to enforce the new age limit nationwide.

Regardless of federal law, Simmons expressed strong advocacy for the change, which he said will prevent nicotine addictions and should save lives among Florida’s youth.

“I think the individuals who have been talking against it, once they have seen this amendment, they won’t have any opposition to it, other than they are philosophically opposed to any regulation whatsoever. The fact of it is … they don’t want to be selling this to individuals under 21 years of age,” Simmons said.

“Senators, we have a crisis. We have a crisis on our hands,” Simmons said, describing middle age students vaping. “Once you get addicted, it is exceedingly difficult to break it. They say they want to be part of the solution. This doesn’t stop a vape shop operator. What it does do is it simply provides accountability.”

Written By

Scott Powers is an Orlando-based political journalist with 30+ years’ experience, mostly at newspapers such as the Orlando Sentinel and the Columbus Dispatch. He covers local, state and federal politics and space news across much of Central Florida. His career earned numerous journalism awards for stories ranging from the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster to presidential elections to misplaced nuclear waste. He and his wife Connie have three grown children. Besides them, he’s into mystery and suspense books and movies, rock, blues, basketball, baseball, writing unpublished novels, and being amused. Email him at scott@floridapolitics.com.

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