Anti-tobacco groups on blocking local governments from regulating products: ‘It’s only Florida families that suffer’

A new Florida law restricts access to vaping products to adults. Credit: Justin Sullivan/GettyImages

Following Gov. Ron DeSantis signature of a new law that will raise the legal age to purchase tobacco or nicotine products and block local control over regulating of these products, health groups warn that the youth tobacco crisis could worsen.

The American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network said in an email to the Phoenix on Monday:

“As tobacco use continues to be the most preventable cause of disease and death in our state, we’re concerned and anxious to see the impacts of the bill once it becomes law. State interference into local tobacco issues benefits no one but the industry responsible for today’s youth tobacco crisis. When our laws empower them, it’s only Florida families that suffer.”

The Florida Legislature approved the measure (SB 1080) during its 2021 annual session and DeSantis signed it into law on Friday, raising the legal age for tobacco use to 21 effective on Oct. 1. The law authorizes the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation instead of local governments to regulate “the marketing, sale, or delivery of tobacco products,” including vaping products.

Critics argue against the measure will only exacerbate the trend of youth engaging in the use electronic cigarettes or other products containing nicotine.

According to data from the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, about one in every four (21.6 percent) of Florida high school students are using e-cigarettes. And each year, 4,100 kids under 18 “become new daily smokers.”

That said, health groups are strongly opposed to state preemption of local regulations for the marketing and sale of nicotine products because they believe it fuels efforts by tobacco companies to aggressively target the youth.

The new age limit aligns with a federal law approved in December 2019.

Vaping products, such as e-cigarettes,  frequently attract young people and produce a nicotine-laden aerosol, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

State Rep. Jackie Toledo, a Tampa Republican, said she sponsored the bill because she feels it will help to tackle the youth tobacco epidemic.

“We are working to keep tobacco and nicotine products out of the hands of children,” Toledo said in a written statement Friday.

“In states where Tobacco-21 legislation has been implemented, these policies have proven to effectively reduce the underage use of tobacco and nicotine that are often shared via social sources or nontraditional retail channels,” she said.