Gov. Ron DeSantis on Friday signed a measure to raise the smoking age to 21.
DeSantis vetoed a similar proposal last year. Nevertheless, the Senate sponsor, Travis Hutson, accurately believed the Governor could sign the measure this year because the bill won’t regulate vaping flavors like last year’s version would have.
“We are working to keep tobacco and nicotine products out of the hands of children,” Tampa Republican Rep. Jackie Toledo said in a news release. “In states where Tobacco-21 legislation has been implemented, these policies have proven to effectively reduce the underage use of tobacco and nicotine that are often shared via social sources or nontraditional retail channels. This legislation is a step in the right direction, demonstrating Florida’s commitment to work with regulators and stakeholders to combat underage use.”
Toledo and Miami Democratic Rep. Nicholas Duran have been consistent House sponsors.
DeSantis argued limiting the available vaping flavors reduced ways for smokers to wean themselves off cigarettes, which he said are more dangerous.
The 2021 proposal empowers the Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco with broader oversight on the marketing, sale, or delivery of tobacco or nicotine products, including vaping products.
In December 2019, then-President Donald Trump signed a measure raising the federal sales age for tobacco and nicotine to 21. More than 550 local governments and 33 states currently limit tobacco sales to those 21 and older.
Further, vendors will be required to get a new nicotine permit. While a tobacco permit costs $50, the new nicotine permits will be free.
Hutson’s proposal makes an exception for military service members below the age of 21.
Throughout the committee process, the bill and House companion received considerable pushback from several organizations including the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network. The coalition of cancer interests argues the measure is disguised as a solution to today’s youth tobacco epidemic.
“Instead, it will place Florida in violation of federal law with exceptions for military under 21 and certain tobacco products,” the coalition said in a statement Thursday. “While we’ve long supported raising the age of sale for tobacco products to 21, it’s also a tactic we’ve seen for decades by Big Tobacco to muddle bills with seemingly promising policy.”
When DeSantis shot the related legislation down last year, it had received acclaim from Attorney General Ashley Moody.
“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.
Hutson, a St. Augustine Republican, didn’t carry the 2020 bill. That responsibility belonged to former Sen. David Simmons, an Orlando-area Republican.
The law will take effect Oct. 1.