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Protesters are calling on DeSantis to veto proposed vaping regulations

 Protesters speak out against a bill that would ban the sale of flavored e-cigarettes in Florida at a demonstration on W. Brevard Street outside the governor's mansion on Thursday, March 7, 2024.
Valerie Crowder
Protesters speak out against a bill that would ban the sale of flavored e-cigarettes in Florida at a demonstration outside the Governor's Mansion on Thursday, March 7, 2024.

A ban on the sale of flavored nicotine vaping devices in Florida is heading to Gov. Ron DeSantis. Protesters say it will hurt businesses and their employees.

Opponents to a proposed ban on the sale of flavored e-cigarettes in Florida are calling on the governor to stop it from becoming law.

“It would kill our local businesses,” said Gary Eliasov-Hodes, managing partner of Cloud Smoke Shop, which has two locations in Tallahassee.

Seventy percent of his business revenue comes from selling flavored nicotine vaping devices, he said. That’s $3.5 million annually for both of his shops.

On Thursday, Eliasov-Hodes was among about 200 people gathered outside the Governor’s Mansion to protest the proposed ban, which they say they want Gov. Ron DeSantis to veto.

The legislation would prohibit stores from selling flavored e-cigarettes; instead they would be allowed to sell from a list of 23 different tobacco-flavored vaping devices that have been approved for marketing by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The bipartisan bill got pushback from some Democrats in the House but received unanimous support in the Senate before it passed last week. Last year, DeSantis vetoed a similar measure, and opponents say they hope he will do the same this year.

Proponents of the measure say removing vaping flavors from the market is aimed at keeping e-cigarettes out of the hands of children.

Lining the sidewalks on each side of Tallahassee's West Brevard Street, protesters chanted “Veto the vape bill” and “No to tobacco,” while holding signs with the words: “We vote, we vape.”

Residents who vape, local business owners and vaping industry workers were among those calling on DeSantis to veto the measure. They argue the bill would take away choices from consumers, hurt local businesses and eliminate jobs.

Eliasov-Hodes says the measure would likely force him to lay off employees. One of those employees is 21-year-old Karingtan Stanford, who says she’s worked at Cloud Smoke Shop for a couple of years. “I love it,” she said. “The type of people who come in there are really cool.”

Stanford says the protest against the bill was the first she’s ever attended, and she’s primarily concerned about keeping her job.

Most of the customers she sees prefer flavored e-cigarettes, Stanford said. Hardly any of them choose the tobacco-flavored vaping devices. “I know, like, one guy who buys a tobacco-flavored vape, and that’s out of, like, a thousand,” she said. “It will be a sad day when they take away flavors.”

The American Heart Association finds that vaping is not safe or a healthy alternative to smoking partly because e-cigarettes contain heavy metals and chemicals that cause cancer and lung disease. They also contain nicotine, a highly addictive substance.

Lila Chafin, 19, says she would likely quit vaping if the bill becomes law, but that’s not something she wants to do. “We should be allowed to have our vapes,” she says.

Vaping industry representatives say the bill could cost hundreds of jobs locally and thousands of jobs across the state, explained Charles Harris, who was representing the Florida Smoke Free Association and Vapor Technology Association at the protest, which he also helped organize.

“This is not a good bill for business,” he said. “And it's not a good bill for former smokers, either.”
Copyright 2024 WFSU. To see more, visit WFSU.

Valerie Crowder is a freelance reporter based in Panama City, Florida. Before moving to Florida, she covered politics and education for Public Radio East in New Bern, North Carolina. While at PRE, she was also a fill-in host during All Things Considered. She got her start in public radio at WAER-FM in Syracuse, New York, where she was a part-time reporter, assistant producer and host. She has a B.A. in newspaper online journalism and political science from Syracuse University. When she’s not reporting the news, she enjoys reading classic fiction and thrillers, hiking with members of the Florida Trail Association and doing yoga.