Tobacco 21 bill clears House despite preemption objections

Some Democrats worry the bill preempts local e-cigarette sale laws.

This session’s attempt to bring tobacco vaping products sales under much of the state regulatory control for cigarettes and raise the state minimum tobacco purchase age to 21 cleared a House committee Wednesday.

The House State Administration & Technology Appropriations Subcommittee’s 10-5 approval of Republican Rep. Jackie Toledo‘s HB 987 came with emerging opposition, primarily from Democrats, over the bill’s preemptions of local governments’ efforts to regulate vaping product shops.

A similar, though less restrictive, bill cleared the Legislature last year, only to be vetoed by Gov. Ron DeSantis.

Last year, however, the main concerns, including those expressed by the Governor, focused more on how the bill might hurt the vaping business, viewed as a safer alternative to cigarettes. This year’s effort was tightened in an attempt to satisfy the Governor.

Still, as with last year’s effort, opposition emerged from the American Heart Association and some other health groups that have previously expressed concern about how Florida’s law might put the state out of compliance with federal law, which already sets the tobacco purchase age to people 21 or older. The health groups also contend that a crackdown on vaping products might drive some people back to cigarettes.

But those didn’t seem to be significant issues among committee members Wednesday.

Toledo agued her bill is aimed at preventing teenagers from having access to tobacco products of any sort, including vape products.

“With nearly half of all middle and high school students using e-cigarettes, it’s our duty to create a regulatory framework around the establishments that sell these products to hold them accountable,” Toledo said.

But for several of the members, most notably Democratic Reps. Yvonne Hinson of Gainesville and Joy Goff-Marcil of Maitland — former city commissioners in their hometowns — the state regulatory framework could be a problem if its weaker than what some communities already are doing.

Hinson argued the state could wipe out some of the best local efforts with a bureaucracy that is both unnecessary and potentially less effective.

“Everything is preempting local ordinances. It’s as if the state is becoming a monarchy. All of the things that cities and counties have done well, we’ve done well,” Hinson said.

Committee Chair Rep. Cyndi Stevenson, a St. Johns Republican, countered that Florida would be best served if there were not a patchwork of ordinances regulating the products differently from one community to the next.

“I think to have really good enforcement and consistent enforcement it would be good to have rules that all law enforcement agencies are aware of in this state,” she said.

The measure already has cleared the House Regulatory Reform Subcommittee and heads next to the House Judiciary Committee.

Republican Sen. Travis Hutson of Palm Coast is sponsoring the Senate counterpart (SB 1080).

Scott Powers

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 [email protected].


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