More than 5 million teenagers reported using e-cigarettes in November, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The legal age to purchase and use nicotine products is 18. That changes to 21 in June after a federal law was signed in December. Now Florida is adjusting its laws to reflect the national change, but the House and Senate aren’t aligned on what needs to be done.
Two Senate bills would make changes to the tobacco industry. One would raise the legal age to purchase tobacco and vaping products to 21. The other would put in place financial penalties for anyone violating the law. That bill has gotten support from health groups. The House bills are similar. But one includes regulatory changes that health groups don't like.
The American Cancer Society’s Heather Youmans says the bill keeps e-cigarettes separate from tobacco products.
"The opposition is that we believe there is a better way to regulate this industry and these products," Youmans said. "The Senate is going down that path and the House is instead separating out the products and setting up a duplicative regulatory process."
The same bill creates a permit for vape stores. Rep. Jackie Toledo (R-Tampa) is the sponsor.
"Now all retailers of vaping products in Florida are subject to state regulatory oversight just like tobacco products," Toledo said.
The House version would create several new categories such as nicotine products and nicotine dispensing devices, while the Senate’s version defines them simply as tobacco products. Youmans says that simplifies the process for the Department of Business and Professional Regulation, or DBPR.
"Creating a new product category and a duplicative regulatory process within DBPR is problematic. The Senate approach has been to align our statutes with the federal governments," Youmans said.
The American Cancer Society says Toledo’s bill is a gift to the industry that caused the youth tobacco epidemic — because it would take a long time to implement.
"As its drafted in the Senate bill, DBPR could the very next day be able to go out and start enforcing the law at 21," Youmans said. "And within the current regulatory framework that they had, there’d be no need for additional rule making and rule promulgations and some of the other things that are going to come along with separating a new category out and developing a whole separate regulatory process."
Despite bills in both chambers, Governor Ron DeSantis says he doesn’t see a need for further action, aside from raising the age to 21.
"The federal government’s doing stuff but I don’t think we need to do anything beyond what’s been done there," DeSantis said. "Sometimes I think we kind of get a little ahead of where the science may be on this. So we’ll see but I don’t have any plans to ask for any new restrictions on vaping."
Regulating vaping and vape products became a headline last December after two Floridians died.
More than 100 cases of vaping-associated illnesses have been reported in Florida. Nationwide, more than 2,000 cases have been reported, and 50 people have died.