TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - The number of minors using electronic cigarettes doubled in Florida from 2011 to 2012, according to the state Department of Health. Now lawmakers want to make the sales of the devices to minors go up in smoke.
Jim Hampton's store in Tallahassee is one of thousands of outlets in the state that sell e-cigarettes.
Hampton proudly sells the device that he said has helped dozens of customers quit tobacco by still allowing them to inhale nicotine.
With just a few clicks, an e-cigarette can dispense flavored nicotine vapors. It's something state Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto wants to make sure isn't sold to minors, just like a traditional cigarette.
"Well, the trend is that youth are using them in larger numbers, and as a mom, I want to do all I can to protect kids from getting addicted to nicotine at such a young age," Benacquisto said.
There has yet to be federal regulation on the e-cigarettes because they don't contain tobacco. Minors can purchase the cartridges and flavored nicotine juices as they please.
Hampton decided not to sell to minors at his store, but he believes they're better for kids than real tobacco.
"If my child was under 18 and smoked cigarettes, I would certainly purchase them for him," Hampton said.
While Hampton supports the bill and regulating the marketplace, his main worry is opening the door to banning e-cigarettes in public.
Benacquisto didn't go so far as to rule it out.
"If another senator wants to file another bill at another time, that's their prerogative," she said. "But my desire and the desire of this bill is to keep them from being purchased by minors."
The bill has passed its first three committees unanimously. The next stop is the Senate appropriations committee.
If passed, the bill would make selling to minors a second-degree misdemeanor and would be bumped up to a first-degree misdemeanor if there are multiple violations in the same year.
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