A Senate panel has advanced a renewed effort to raise the smoking age from 18 to 21.
The Senate Regulated Industries Committee voted unanimously Tuesday to advance St. Augustine Republican Sen. Travis Hutson‘s bill (SB 1080) to increase the smoking age in compliance with federal regulations. The bill would also place tobacco and vaping regulations into separate statutes.
The House and Senate passed a similar measure last year that, in addition to raising the smoking age, would have banned most vaping flavors, but Gov. Ron DeSantis vetoed the proposed restrictions. He argued it was redundant because of federal law and that banning vape flavors would drive people to the black market or back to cigarettes.
Hutson said his latest version of the bill patches the Governor’s concerns. Mainly, the new bill does not limit vape cartridges to tobacco and menthol flavors. Unlike last year, the bill would exempt members of the military of any age from smoking restrictions.
If Tuesday’s Regulated Industries Committee vote is a barometer, there are good signs for the latest effort. Committee members Sens. Lauren Book, a Democrat, Joe Gruters, a Republican, and Linda Stewart, a Democrat, voted against the bill’s final passage in 2020, but voted in favor in committee this year.
Former Sen. David Simmons carried last year’s proposed legislation with Reps. Nicholas Duran and Jackie Toledo. Toledo, a Tampa Republican, is also carrying the companion (HB 987) to Hutson’s bill this year.
Simmons, a Republican, Duran, a Democrat, and Toledo argued youth vaping has become an epidemic and a crisis in middle and high schools.
The Florida Smoke Free Association and a representative from the vape giant Juul issued their support for the new version.
Susan Harbin, government relations director for the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network’s Florida branch, opposed changes Hutson offered in committee to further tailor it to the Governor’s demands. Florida already has a a framework for tobacco products and their retailers that encompasses vaping.
“Our concern is that this opens the door to regulate these products differently and less stringently, and this is an effort that we’ve seen nationwide,” Harbin said.
She also encouraged lawmakers to remove criminal penalties for underage smoking, arguing those penalties don’t dissuade youth smoking.
The proposed legislation would take effect in October.
Toledo’s bill has not been scheduled for a hearing yet. Hutson’s bill next heads to the Senate Health Policy Committee, its second of three committee stops.