A bill that would ban flavored e-liquids in Florida, negatively affecting the state’s 800,000 vapers and 5,000 vaping-related jobs, could be sent to Governor Ron DeSantis’ desk any day now to be signed into law.
The bill has been delayed due to the current crisis. There is no indication whether the Governor will sign or veto the bill, as either action could upset important DeSantis allies.
A Tobacco-21 Bill
SB-810 began life as a bill to raise the age limit to buy tobacco and vaping products to 21, something that vaping advocates are in favor of. DeSantis himself has also previously stated that he was in favor of raising the legal age. This was in 2019, before President Trump and Congress passed a bill that raised the age limit nationwide to 21, which made the bill redundant.
Regardless of the federal bill, the Florida legislature went ahead with the bill to raise the age limit. They also amended the bill to add restrictions to the sale and purchase of flavored e-liquids.
This section of the bill was added in early 2020 as a response to the outbreak of a vaping-related illness that was sweeping the country at the time.
The current legislation is a pared-down version that would have put more onerous restrictions on vape shop owners and manufacturers. Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs wanted to add a provision to the bill that would have hooked vape retailers with a $50-fee to operate. That version of the bill also sought to classify vape retailers as purveyors of tobacco products.
This classification would’ve meant that they would be subject to the same oversight as tobacco retailers, and also face more damages for selling to underage users. Fortunately, that amendment to the bill died in committee, but the provision banning flavors, Section 6, Part (5)(a), is still a part of the minimum age limit bill.
The Pros of the Bill
The section that was added to the bill aimed at flavored e-liquids grew out of two concerns.
- First, the vaping-related illness that affected over one hundred Floridians and caused two deaths last year.
- The other concern comes from the rise of teenage vaping in the state. The rise has come as smoking rates have fallen to all-time lows in the Sunshine state.
In 2019, 1.5% of high-school and middle school students said they had smoked a cigarette in the past 30 days, while 16.6% of the same group said that they had vaped an electronic cigarette in the last month. The percentage of young people admitting to vaping in the last 30 days rose five percent from last year.
While 87% of Florida teens say they will never smoke, over 16% of those same respondents said that they had vaped within the last thirty days.
The rise in underage vaping is also troubling. 9.1% of middle-schoolers admitted to vaping in 2019, which is up from only 7.1% the previous year.
The Downsides of the Bill
Signing SB-810 into law would have grave economic consequences for Florida businesses and Florida vapers. The bill will effectively side-line the industry. It would severely limit the options adult vapers have to only tobacco and menthol, which, as a NY Times editorial argued, would force them back to harmful cigarettes.
Not only would vapers be forced back into smoking cigarettes, which are still deadlier than any e-cigarette, but the black market would also flourish and we would see the same types of off-brand, copy-cat products that caused the first outbreak of vaping illnesses around the country.
Black market products were something Gov. DeSantis was also mindful of when asked, during the height of the EVALI outbreak, if he would institute a statewide flavor ban
The problem is, if you ban the normal stuff in the store, that could push more people into those dangerous things
Could Go Either Way
No one is sure what will happen with bill SB-810. Gov. DeSantis has variously voiced his support for the vaping industry, while also supporting more legislation of the industry. At a time when all Floridians are facing economic hardship, it makes no sense to make it harder for small businesses to make an honest living.
The Governor has not issued any recent statement regarding the issue, but watchers at the State Capitol believe that SB-810 could, any day, be included among the small batches of bills the governor signs into law each day. It is only due to the current crisis that the bill has been stalled, as it has already passed both the Senate and House and needs only DeSantis’ signature to become law.
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