After months of disparate action on e-cigarettes in Florida, the Legislature has finally approved a uniform, statewide regulation: raising the age of purchase for tobacco products from 18 to 21. The legislation is consistent with federal regulations issued in December and finally puts the state on the level of what other local governments have already done. But the ever-increasing numbers of teens vaping means that Florida has acted not a moment too soon.
As reports of a mysterious lung illness associated with vaping came to the forefront this summer, President Donald Trump appeared poised to take immediate action by banning the sale of flavored e-cigarettes, which are marketed disproportionately to teenagers and young adults. But while there was much hemming and hawing, the ban did not come for months. So it was a welcome surprise in December when the U.S. Food and Drug Administration officially raised the minimum age to buy tobacco products, including cigarettes and e-cigarettes, from 18 to 21.
The new state legislation is a positive step, because it is comprehensive and offers concrete guidance to local governments that have already made strides on this issue. Hillsborough County commissioners approved an ordinance in November raising the minimum age of purchase for vaping products from 18 to 21, becoming the first local government in the state to do so. The state legislation will also require that any flavored nicotine product have FDA approval before being sold in Florida and mandating vape sellers have a state tobacco permit and verify the purchaser’s age.
The numbers show that the existing regulations in Florida were not enough. Despite the fact that teens under the age of 18 were not legally allowed to purchase or possess nicotine-dispensing devices in Florida prior to this legislation, they were still doing it. Tobacco Free Florida indicated that more than 25 percent of Florida high schoolers reported vaping in 2019. In Pinellas County, that number was even higher, with 41 percent of students self-reporting that they had vaped at one time. Hillsborough County schools’ tobacco incidents have increased by almost 300 percent in the last three school years.
But this is far beyond being simply a regulatory issue. It is also a public health issue. While the deadly coronavirus pandemic rages across the country, there are teenagers who have already encountered pulmonary problems due to e-cigarette use. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported more than 2,800 cases of lung disease associated with vaping, as of Feb. 18. At least 68 of those cases have resulted in deaths.
It is a step in the right direction that Florida changed its law to match federal guidance and that the federal guidance matches what has been clear all along: that e-cigarette use has a negative impact on our teenagers and young adults.
Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Times Chairman and CEO Paul Tash, Editor of Editorials Tim Nickens, and editorial writers Elizabeth Djinis, John Hill and Jim Verhulst. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news.