By ASHLEY LYERLY
Last week, the American Lung Association released its 19th annual “State of Tobacco Control” report, which reveals that Florida has mostly failing grades for its efforts to reduce and prevent tobacco use, including e-cigarettes.
The report grades states and the federal government on policies proven to prevent and reduce tobacco use. It finds that Florida elected officials should do more to save lives and ensure all residents benefit from reductions in tobacco use and exposure to secondhand smoke. On this year’s report, Florida received four “F” grades and one “B” grade for the state’s strong smokefree workplace laws.
State lawmakers have the power to help reduce tobacco use, as well as curb the youth e-cigarette epidemic through commonsense legislation like strengthening the tobacco licensing program.
Currently in Florida, e-cigarettes aren’t defined as tobacco products, so retailers don’t need a license to sell these products. Without a comprehensive tobacco retail license program, the state cannot effectively enforce, educate, monitor or penalize illegal sales of tobacco products, such as sales of vaping products to kids.
In order to better enforce these laws across the state and keep kids from vaping, Florida lawmakers must amend the current tobacco licensing program by defining e-cigarettes as tobacco products. This will ensure that all retailers that sell e-cigarettes must pay a fee to sell these products and comply with all tobacco licensing regulations. If a retailer doesn’t comply with the regulations, and, for example, sells e-cigarettes illegally to kids, the state must hold them accountable with fines, then possible license suspension and revocation for additional infractions.
Increasing regulations on e-cigarettes is more urgent than ever. The number of teens using e-cigarettes has skyrocketed over the last few years. According to Tobacco Free Florida, in 2019 25.6% of Florida high school students reported current use of e-cigarettes, which is a 63% increase compared to 2017. And the trend is similar across the nation. In fact, 1 in 5 teens use e-cigarettes in the U.S.
We urge Florida lawmakers to support legislation that will protect the health of a new generation from a lifetime of addiction and tobacco-related death and disease.
Ashley Lyerly is Director of Advocacy for the American Lung Association in Florida