Florida banned smoking in workplaces more than 15 years ago, and a powerful state panel on Tuesday backed a proposal that would add vaping and electronic cigarettes to the ban.
Former state Sen. Lisa Carlton, the main backer of the proposal, said Floridians have been subjected to second-hand vapor when they attend movies or restaurants and other public places since the devices started proliferating.
The Florida Constitution Revision Commission voted 26-6 in favor of the vaping ban and placed it one step closer to the 2018 ballot. A final vote must come before early May, when the commission is required to finish its work.
Armed with a 2016 surgeon general's report on electronic cigarettes that shows secondhand aerosol exhaled into the air from vaping can expose others to potentially harmful chemicals, Carlton said now is the time to have voters consider the ban.
"Add e-cigarettes and vaping into the Constitution so that our citizens can stop being experiments. Because that's what we've been … as those of us who don't vape have been an experiment for all of the citizens that are vaping," Carlton said. "I think it's time to clean up our restaurants, our malls, our movie theaters, so we can all breathe clean air again, which is what the 2002 constitutional amendment intended."
Carlton recalled the story of watching her gymnast daughter work out at a gym and sitting behind someone who was vaping.
"It infuriated me that I was sitting in a health facility in a closed workplace watching activities of children and there was somebody in front of me vaping," she said. "And I can go on and on, but I won't."
Nearly 71 percent of voters in 2002 approved the ban on smoking in workplaces, including gathering spots such as restaurants. If Carlton's proposed constitutional amendment (Proposal 65) gets on the November ballot, it would need approval from 60 percent of voters to pass.
Carlton's proposal would change the wording of the smoking ban from "workplaces without tobacco smoke" to "workplaces without tobacco smoke or vapor." The proposal wouldn't change the definition of smoking but would add a definition of "vapor-generating electronic device."
Carlton's proposal was supported by most of the Constitution Revision Commission members, including commissioner and state Attorney General Pam Bondi who said that in 2002, "No one contemplated e-cigarettes."
The 37-member Florida Constitution Revision Commission meets every 20 years to evaluate possible changes to the Constitution. The panel can put issues before voters without having to gather petition signatures or get proposals approved by the Legislature.
Heather Youmans, Florida's senior director for government relations for the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, said her association supports modernizing the state's clean indoor-air act laws and that Carlton's efforts are a "step forward for public health."
Meanwhile, Constitution Revision Commission members told stories with public vaping. Commissioner Carolyn Timmann said she was surprised to discover that Florida's smoking ban didn't apply to electronic cigarettes.
Timmann, who is the Martin County clerk of court, shared a story about a plume of smoke from a juror vaping.
"You could see a little bit of a panic starts. People were looking around thinking, 'What's going on?" she said, adding that a sheriff's deputy told her that one of the jurors was vaping in the courthouse.
"I assumed that it wasn't allowed. To me, I thought it fell right under the smoking ban," she said. "But then come to find out it didn't. Luckily, there was enough pressure from other jurors where this juror kinda went outside and continued that."
Bondi said the proposal allows the state to "keep up with technology."
"I don't think anyone could ever contemplate e-cigarettes where kids can be putting all this junk in them, taking them out and smoking whatever they want. I think we are just keeping up with technology, something that was never contemplated 20 years ago," she said.