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Senate Passes ‘T21’ Smoking Age Bill

Lit Cigarette
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

With almost no debate, the Florida Senate on Tuesday overwhelmingly approved a measure that would raise the minimum age to buy tobacco and vaping products from 18 to 21. 

The Senate proposal (SB 1618) also includes a provision that would ban local governments from passing ordinances dealing with the minimum age. Sen. Aaron Bean, R-Fernandina Beach, asked bill sponsor David Simmons if the bill would “grandfather” in people between the ages of 18 to 21 who are already using the products.

“When this bill goes into effect, they’ll be subject to the rules,” Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, said before the Senate voted 33-6 in favor of the measure. A House version of the bill (HB 7119) also would raise the age from 18 to 21 for smokable medical marijuana.

But lobbyists working against the measure have said it is doomed. Florida is one of several states considering legislation supporting an issue known as “Tobacco 21,” or T21, that is supported by e-cigarette giant, JUUL Labs.

JUUL’s exponential growth --- its market share tripled in just one year --- is linked closely to the skyrocketing increase in youngsters’ e-cigarette use. JUUL, owned by Altria, the parent company of cigarette maker Philip Morris USA, is pushing Tobacco 21, in part in an attempt to keep federal regulators at bay.

The American Heart Association issued a news release Tuesday accusing tobacco companies of having “ruined” the House and Senate proposals.

“It’s a sad state of affairs --- a bill with such good intentions has been maimed, with toxic amendments,” Mark Landreth, the association’s state government affairs director, said in the release.

“The public deserves to know what’s really happening behind the scenes. When it comes to our youth and public health, passing ‘something’ short of comprehensive, science-based Tobacco 21 policy can have good intentions but with far-reaching, negative consequences.”