As reports of teens coming down with life-threatening illnesses related to vaping, a Florida lawmaker is introducing a bill to raise the legal age to buy vaping and tobacco products to 21.
The legislation introduced by Tampa Republican Rep. Jackie Toledo also would prohibit doctors from issuing medical marijuana in smokable form to a patient under 21, unless that patient is diagnosed with a terminal condition. Currently, someone 18 or older could indulge in vaping and use medical marijuana with a doctor’s approval.
Toledo’s bill would raise the minimum age for Floridians to possess tobacco and vaping products that deliver nicotine from 18 to 21. It also would prohibit the sale of certain flavored nicotine products.
“This is about saving lives, plain and simple. It’s about protecting our children,” Toledo said at a news conference in front of Tampa General Hospital, where she introduced her proposed legislation on Thursday.
The proposal comes just days after U.S. health officials have said they are investigating more than 450 cases of possible vaping-related illnesses in 33 states and at least five deaths.
It also arrives a day after President Donald Trump said he would seek to ban the sale of flavored vaping products in an attempt to get young people to give up using e-cigarettes.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have said that some type of chemical exposure is likely associated with the recently reported vaping-related illnesses, but more information is needed to determine the precise cause. Patients’ symptoms have ranged from cough, chest pain and shortness of breath to fatigue, vomiting, diarrhea and fever, according to the CDC.
E-cigarettes have been advertised for years as a “safe” alternative to conventional cigarettes because they don’t contain tobacco. Instead they work by heating a liquid cartridge containing nicotine, flavors and other chemicals into a vapor.
However, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration indicated in 2009 that e-cigarettes do contain “detectable levels of known carcinogens” and toxic chemicals to which “users could be exposed.”
Dr. David Wein, the medical director of the Tampa General Hospital Emergency Department, told reporters on Thursday that the piece of Toledo’s bill he most appreciates is the banning of flavors in e-cigarettes, which he said is an obvious enticement for young people to indulge in such products.
“You see flavors like cotton candy or bubblegum. I don’t know what else to say other than it’s pretty self-evident that, you know, a current smoker doesn’t really want to smoke bubblegum. He wants to smoke a cigarette.”