Pandemics make it hard to host a protest, but critics of a flavored vape ban passed by the Legislature held a virtual rally to make their point.
The Florida Smoke Free Association saw supporters with home-made placards organize in front of webcams. Most waved signs made on home printer paper. Some donned face masks with the message “Veto SB 810.”
It’s the latest sign of how even sticking it to the man has adjusted to social distancing guidelines issued by the federal government.
“We’ve just been inundated from people in the state and our membership who wanted to see something done,” said Robert Lovett, President of the Florida Smoke Free Association.
“Even with COVID-19 going on, people want to express their First Amendment rights. But they didn’t want to do anything to further the spread of the virus.”
Thus the digital demonstration was born.
The issue itself has been a difficult one for the association, which favored a House version of legislation that raised Florida’s vaping age to 21 and looked to curb the availability of flavored vaping products to young consumers.
But a Senate version that also limited adult use of flavored tobacco products is what ultimately passed.
Lovett said that put the association in an awkward position of fighting the final version of legislation it supported through much of Session. But the group feels lawmakers ultimately landed in an unacceptable place.
“An adult flavor ban could shut down nearly 1,000 small businesses in Florida,” Lovett said. “Many of our members use these products to quit smoking.”
Ironically, Lovett said this will hurt small vape shops while giants like Juul, the target of a multi-state investigation by state legal officers including Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody, can adjust and survive.
But how could members get that message out? The association launched the website veto810.org with a call for Gov. Ron DeSantis to kill the bill and send the matter back to the Legislature.
Early in the coronavirus outbreak, small protests on social media began with two or three people going to vape shops. But as directives on social gatherings discouraged travel to nonessential businesses or of even small groups rallying outside their household, many took the message to their home computers.
Ultimately, about 1,000 individuals created short videos and still images calling for a veto. Many can be seen in an online video.
“The First Amendment lives on this time when social distancing is a must with this virtual political rally,” the video begins.
It goes on to show a host of opponents of the bill, as a narrator asserts the legislation is “denying freedom to millions of adult Floridians to choose flavored vapor as an alternative to smoking cigarettes.”