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Gov. DeSantis vetoes bill that would have raised minimum tobacco, vaping age to 21

The Governor said the bill would lead to increased cigarette use.

Gov. Ron DeSantis vetoed a bill that would have raised the legal age to buy tobacco products to 21 and banned flavored nicotine products commonly used in vape cartridges.

DeSantis vetoed the vape and tobacco bill (SB 810), arguing it was, in part, redundant and also detrimental to smoking cessation efforts.

“While originally conceived as a bill to rate the legal age to buy tobacco to 21, (which is superfluous given this is already mandated by federal law) … SB 810 effectively bans tobacco-free vaping flavors used by hundreds of thousands of Floridians as a reduced-risk alternative to cigarettes, which are more dangerous,” DeSantis wrote in his veto transmission letter.

Raising the age to 21 would have helped the state comply with new federal regulations. The bill would have also banned all vape flavors other than menthol and tobacco until they receive approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The Legislature delayed sending the bill, as well as others, to DeSantis’ desk to give him time to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. Lawmakers sent the bill to his desk last week.

Republican Sen. David Simmons ran the bill in the Senate while Reps. Jackie Toledo and Ray Rodrigues made changes delaying the start date of the age hike three months to the start of 2021, ensuring permitted store employees younger than 21 years old can sell tobacco and vape products and clarifying that vape product permits don’t carry a $50 fee, a previous provision removed that would have accessed product license fees.

Toledo criticized the Governor’s decision Wednesday, arguing vaping poses an additional risk to users amid the COVID-19 pandemic, which affects respiratory function and could be exasperated by vaping.

“I am disappointed in the Governor’s decision to veto SB 810 which had broad bipartisan support and support from the health care professionals on the front lines battling COVID. As a new school year begins, the temptations of unregulated and easy access vaping products threaten the health and safety of our children,” Toledo said. “We must prioritize health, especially during a global pandemic with a disease that targets the respiratory system. I will continue to push for smart and sensible legislation, with oversight from our State health agencies, to protect our youth from the dangers of lifelong nicotine addiction. Floridians need to know that if you use e-cigarettes you are damaging your lungs and increasing your chances of hospitalization or death from COVID-19.”

“Adult vapers and small business owners across Florida are thankful that Gov. DeSantis listened to their stories. We support raising the age to purchase tobacco products to 21, as has already been done at the federal level, but committee amendments turned this bill into a monstrosity. When legislators voted for this bill, few had any idea that they were actually voting to shut down small businesses in their districts,” said Gregory Conley, president of the American Vaping Association. “This would have been disastrous not only for the 5,000-plus vapor-related jobs in Florida, but for the 800,000-plus adult vapers in Florida as well. There is a reason why big tobacco companies did not ask Gov. DeSantis to veto this bill. Every ban on flavored vaping products results in more deadly combustible cigarettes being sold.”

The Florida Smoke Free Association, a group that represents more than 1 million small business vape shops, also applauded the veto.

“SB 810 would have cost Florida nearly $2 billion in economic activity,” Florida Smoke Free Association President Robert Lovett said. “Now more than ever, we appreciate elected officials like you who defend personal freedom and support our small business community. We need this leadership now more than ever.”

The American Lung Association said the bill wasn’t good enough and its leaders look forward to working with lawmakers to craft a new bill that will protect young Floridians from the harmful effects of tobacco and vaping.

“The American Lung Association urges Florida legislators to do more to reduce the death and disease caused by tobacco use, including the e-cigarette epidemic. As an organization with decades of experience advocating for public policies proven to prevent and reduce tobacco use, we know that the initiatives in SB810 were not enough to address the rates of youth tobacco use in Florida,” said Ashley Lyerly, director of advocacy for the Lung Association.

Toledo and Democratic Rep. Nicholas Duran carried the bill and companion legislation through the House. They and Simmons believe youth vaping has become an epidemic and a crisis in middle and high schools.

“This legislation would almost assuredly lead more people to resume smoking cigarettes, and it would drive others to the hazardous black market,” DeSantis wrote. “The latter consequence is especially significant because the much-publicized cases of lung injury associated with vaping in recent years have been traced to illegal, or black market, vape cartridges containing THC, not the types of legal vaping products that this bill would abolish.”

DeSantis added, “reducing the use of all nicotine-related products, including vaping among our youth, is an important goal, but this will not be achieved by eliminating legal products for adults and by devastating the small businesses who provide these adults with reduced-risk alternatives to cigarettes.”

In addition to the vape flavor ban and increased tobacco sales age, foods like tomatoes and potatoes, which contain trace nicotine, were carved out of the bill in a clarification.

Republican Sens. Aaron Bean and Jeff Brandes and Democratic Sens. Audrey Gibson — the Minority Leader — and Linda Stewart cast the dissenting votes. Democratic Sens. Lauren BookRandolph Bracy and Jason Pizzo and Republicans Sens. George Gainer and Joe Gruters later joined the four in the Senate.

Bracy, who said he accidentally voted yes the first time around, called the measure a terrible bill.

“It will destroy an entire industry that actually helps people as a way to decrease the amount of nicotine they use,” he said.

Republican Rep. Anthony Sabatini said banning those flavors would create a black market for flavored vape liquids. Off-market liquids and vapes have reportedly been tied to vaping-related deaths.

“If you look at the history of this country’s war on drugs, I believe it’s been an epic failure,” he said. “The only historic simile is probably Pickett’s Charge. It was an absolute failure.”

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Florida Politics reporter Renzo Downey contributed to this report.

Janelle Irwin Taylor has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in Tampa Bay since 2003. Most recently, Janelle reported for the Tampa Bay Business Journal. She formerly served as senior reporter for WMNF News. Janelle has a lust for politics and policy. When she’s not bringing you the day’s news, you might find Janelle enjoying nature with her husband, children and two dogs. You can reach Janelle at Janelle@floridapolitics.com.

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