Senators approved tobacco regulations Friday after finding acceptable bill language separating two controversial measures.
With changes adopted Thursday to keep the effort rolling, the primary bill (SB 810) would raise the age for lawfully purchasing tobacco products from 18 to 21, prohibit the sale of most flavored nicotine liquids and distinguish vaping products from standard nicotine products. Licenses to sell standard tobacco products would still carry an annual $50 fee while selling vaping products would need a cost-free license.
However, the second bill (SB 1394) would include e-cigarettes and other vaping products as tobacco products, tagging licenses to sell them with the $50 fee. Although the bill sponsor, Sen. David Simmons, says the fee is needed to give regulations teeth, that change further separates vaping regulations from the necessary two-thirds vote for the latter bill.
“The fee is simply what is consistent with what we charge retailers of the traditional tobacco products, and it would only seem fair that those who are vape shops who are now being regulated by the DBPR [Department of Business and Professional Regulation] would pay at least the same minimal fee of $50 per store per year,” Simmons told Florida Politics Thursday.
Earlier, he said on the chamber floor that the changes create a “line of demarcation” between the two proposals. Now, he says the primary bill does not rely on the secondary bill.
Senators voted 34-4 to send the primary bill to the House with Republican Sens. Aaron Bean and Jeff Brandes and Democratic Sens. Audrey Gibson — the Minority Leader — and Linda Stewart casting the dissenting votes. Bean, Brandes and Sen. Rob Bradley voted against the vaping license fee bill, which passed 35-3.
On Wednesday, he hit the brakes on both bills to find acceptable language for the House. Still, that chamber appears reluctant to pass the vaping sales fee or an increase to the smoking age.
Both bills would bring Florida regulation in line with new federal guidelines, which raised minimum ages for smoking and vaping to 21 in December. Lawmakers included that provision in the federal defense spending bill, and a week later the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved regulations to enforce the new age limit nationwide.
Before splitting the effort into two bills, Simmons found himself battling two challenges on the $50 vaping fee and vape shop owners who didn’t want to be grouped with tobacco sellers. With a constitutional amendment approved by voters in 2018, tobacco-like excise taxes require two-thirds votes.
House leaders never gave companion legislation (HB 151) by Tampa Republican Rep. Jackie Toledo airtime in committees. But legislation (HB 7089) later filed by Toledo and Miami Democratic Rep. Nicholas Duran would similarly add vaping products to nicotine regulations. Still, some of the nation’s leading public health organizations say it creates a redundant policy.
Simmons has called youth vaping a crisis and says his bills provide accountability for vape shop workers.
“We don’t even know how many vape shops are in the state of Florida. That is how unregulated it is,” he said.
A separate bill (SB 630) by Rockledge Republican Sen. Debbie Mayfield, which would let local governments pass smoking bans in parks, passed the Senate and now heads to the House.