TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Raising alarm over the boom in e-cigarettes among young people, Florida lawmakers Tuesday moved to raise the age limit on tobacco products from 18 to 21.
At least 18 other states now have laws setting the minimum age for vaping at 21, and efforts are underway in the remaining states to raise the age limit.
Much remains unknown about the health affects of vaping, but health officials say there are already disturbing signs that e-cigarettes may not be safe.
Some lawmakers say vaping is quickly becoming a major health crisis, as more young people are drawn to e-cigarettes — some believing that vaping is less harmful than smoking cancer-causing traditional cigarettes.
“We have a crisis in our state and in our nation,” said state Sen. David Simmons, the Republican behind the proposal. “We don’t know how this impacting our children yet.”
But e-cigarette retailers argue that vaping is not the same as smoking tobacco and that the legislation would hurt their businesses.
In December, the federal government raised the age to buy both tobacco cigarettes and e-cigarettes to 21 nationwide. But states are passing their own laws because enforcement is usually done on the local and state level.
A Senate health committee voted unanimously to advance the bill Tuesday. The proposed law would also make it illegal to smoke or vape near schools.
Advocates for the industry say vaping is a safer alternative to combustible tobacco — which is now known to cause cancer and other maladies. The e-cigarette industry has marketed their products as a way for heavy smokers to ween themselves from cigarettes.
The rise in vaping by teenagers has prompted alarm. Truth Initiative, a nonprofit anti-tobacco advocacy group, says the use of e-cigarettes has risen dramatically.
The group says that in 2017, 11% of high school students had used e-cigarettes. A year later, that statistic had risen to 21%. And by last year, it had spiked to 27.5%.
Gregory Conley, the president of the American Vaping Association, said his group was not opposed to raising the minimum age limit on smoking or vaping. He said he was not surprised by Tuesday’s outcome.
“This country is still wrapped up in the hysteria,” he said afterward. “You can’t correct misconceptions overnight.”