The Florida Legislature failed to raise the state smoking age to 21 this year, at a time when more teens are “vaping” with flavored electronic cigarettes.
But while the smoking-age bill was a setback, anti-smoking advocates say they’re pleased that lawmakers did not use the legislation as a “Trojan horse” to undermine tobacco regulations in the state.
Among the measures that failed was legislation to eliminate the ability of cities and counties to impose tougher regulations on the tobacco companies, such as increasing age restrictions and banning the flavored e-cigarettes popular with teenagers.
“We’re disappointed but we’re very OK with the outcome,” said Matt Jordan, a lobbyist for the American Cancer Society. “We’re hoping that in the upcoming year we can get a good Tobacco 21 bill to pass.”
Major tobacco companies entered the 2019 session flexing their influence. It was reflected in about $3 million in campaign contributions to lawmakers, political parties and other state officials since 2017, state election records show.
A review of those records by the Florida Phoenix shows:
–RAI Services, a subsidiary of the Reynolds American tobacco company, made $1.95 million in contributions.
–Altria, the parent company for Philip Morris USA, had $752,000 in contributions.
–Swisher, a Jacksonville cigar manufacturer, had more than $230,000 in contributions.
An example of pro-tobacco legislation that emerged included a House bill (HB 1299) that would have eliminated the ability of cities and counties to impose tougher tobacco regulations than the state.
The Senate had a bill (SB 1618) that would have raised the smoking age from 18 to 21. But an early version included several pro-tobacco provisions: a ban on local tobacco regulations and an exemption to allow the cigar-smoking age to remain at 18.
Anti-smoking advocates say allowing Florida cities and counties to retain the ability to regulate cigarettes and vaping is important because historically some of the strongest tobacco regulations in the country have originated with local governments.
“Local governments are free to enact ordinances to better protect their kids from addiction. It has been our experience that the most powerful incentive for the state Legislature to act is the initiative of local citizens and governmental leaders,” said the Tobacco 21 campaign. “Local champions have largely driven this movement in non-preempted states. Constituents are an impetus for change at the community and statewide levels.”
None of the tobacco bills won final approval before Florida lawmakers ended their annual session on May 4.
A major concern for anti-smoking advocates remains the growing use of fruit- and candy-flavored vaping among teens. Last year, about one out of every four Florida high school students reported the use of electronic vaping, a 58 percent increase over the prior year, according to the Tobacco Free Florida advocacy group.
The most popular e-cigarette brand is Juul. And last year, Altria acquired a major interest in the company.
Nationwide, Juul has been one of the major advocates behind the “Tobacco 21” legislation seeking to increase the smoking age, in part to avoid tougher regulations from the federal government.
But Juul’s lobbying efforts have drawn allegations that its smoking-age legislation is also a way for the tobacco companies to undermine other state and local regulations, The New York Times reports.
“Obviously, there is a lot of conversation around the nation for raising the age to 21,” said Jordan, the anti-smoking advocate. “There’s not really a rush to do it here in Florida. We want to make sure that if we do it, we do it in the right way. And we do it in the way that is going to be good for the health of Floridians.”