JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – There’s new energy around a Florida bill that would ban all flavored e-cigarettes, as well as raise the age to buy cigarettes or e-cigarettes from 18 to 21.
It comes as Walmart said Friday it will stop selling electronic cigarettes at its namesake stores and Sam's Club following a string of mysterious illnesses and deaths related to vaping.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration also announced Friday a new set of requirements that tobacco companies must meet before marketing a product to the public. It's the newest regulation put in place to keep the e-cigarette epidemic at bay.
More than 500 people have been diagnosed with breathing illnesses after using e-cigarettes and other vaping devices, according to U.S. health officials. An eighth death was reported this week. But health officials still have not identified the cause.
However, many vape shop owners in Jacksonville are coming to the defense, saying they believe vaping is a healthier alternative to smoking cigarettes. State Rep. Jackie Toledo, R-Tampa, would disagree.
"It shocks me, it disgusts me, that people are dying this fast," she said.
Toledo was the sponsor of a bill in a previous legislative session that would have raised the legal limit to buy cigarettes and e-cigarettes from 18 to 21. Now, Toledo is reintroducing the Tobacco 21 proposal with the addition of banning flavored e-cigarettes.
News4Jax asked what Toledo would say to vape shop owners who have been pushing back, saying the proposal would change their businesses drastically.
"Unfortunately, it is going to change. But you are profiting from children starting to smoke and be addicted to nicotine and I have a problem with that," Toledo said.
According to vape shop owners, however, they are not the ones selling to minors. They said the blame falls on smoke shops and convenience stores. Regardless, Toledo said that flavored e-cigarettes need to go.
"They'd still be able to access the vapes, just not the flavored vapes, which are attracting children," Toledo said.
The Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department said it is getting calls for vaping-related issues. Over the last 12 months, JFRD has responded to more than 129,000 medical calls, 29 of which were documented as vaping related. That's .0002% of the calls made.
On Thursday, a Jacksonville City Council special committee on opioids heard from community members, vape shop owners and a few people who said vaping helped them stop smoking cigarettes. No legislation was brought up, however, lawmakers are trying to figure out if the city needs a new committee specifically on vaping.
Tobacco 21 proposal seeks powerful allies
Toledo wants to increase the legal age for vaping and smoking tobacco from 18 to 21 in Florida. The News Service of Florida reported last week that her bill, which is filed for the legislative session that starts Jan. 14, also would ban the sale of flavored liquid nicotine products.
The final details haven’t been worked out, but the issue has the ear of Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody and Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nunez.
During the 2019 session, the Tobacco 21 proposal, which called for the age to purchase nicotine products to be raised from 18 to 21, passed the Florida Senate and two House committees.
Statistics show one out of five teens vape and at least eight deaths are believed to be linked to vaping related illnesses.
“So there is momentum, especially now the headlines are showing that it's killing our youth, as well,” said Toledo.
She is now hoping to get Moody and Nunez on board with the proposal.
"We're all on the same page that something needs to happen. What that solution ultimately is, is what we're all discussing,” Toledo said.
Health advocates with the American Cancer Society told Capitol News Service that they're also planning to meet with Nunez and Moody. They said they're also working on hammering out the details of the Tobacco 21 proposal with sponsors.
Moody and Nunez have both been attending meetings on the teen vaping crisis.
When Capitol News Service spoke with Nunez on Tuesday, she hadn’t committed to the idea of raising the age.
“But again, the process is just beginning. It will work its way through,” Nunez said.
Moody said her main concern is with flavored vape products.
“As a mother of a 9-year-old, you can imagine that grape, bubble gum would be attractive to kids,” Moody said.
The Tobacco 21 proposal ran into several issues during the 2019 session, with the tobacco and vaping industries working to water down the legislation.
This year’s bill doesn’t include many issues that were responsible for tanking the 2019 effort, such as exemptions for cigars and military personnel. The 2019 version also would have preempted local governments from regulating tobacco advertising.
But the industries are likely to fight hard in 2020, as well.