TALLAHASSEE - With the slim metal tubes becoming a trendy alternative to regular cigarettes, a Senate committee Thursday approved a bill that would prohibit the sale of electronic cigarettes to minors.
The Senate Regulated Industries Committee unanimously supported a proposal (SB 224) by Senate Majority Leader Lizbeth Benacquisto, R-Ft. Myers, that would add nicotine dispensing devices to the state's prohibition on the sale of tobacco products to people under age 18. The bill also would make it illegal for minors to possess such electronic cigarettes and products.
"I think it's a very good bill too, it's probably something we've missed in the past," said Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice.
The bill has the support of the Florida Medical Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Brenda Olsen, chief operating officer for the American Lung Association of the Southeast, said her organization also supports the measure but wants the language of the bill to recognize the product in the same manner as cigarettes and other tobacco products.
"There have been a lot of other states that have adopted the same language but that have put e-cigarettes in a separate category," Olsen said. "We're really looking toward making sure it's regulated as a tobacco product."
If approved, Florida would become the 28th state to ban the sale of electronic cigarettes to minors. Of those states, Alabama, New Jersey and Utah set the age prohibition at 19.
While the smokeless cigarettes, which use heat to vaporize liquid nicotine, are marketed as cleaner than traditional cigarettes, Benacquisto said that as the mother of two teenagers she wants to stop a new generation of nicotine addicts as she reads "article after article" about the increased use of the devices.
"This is an incredibly new product and innovative, that our kids are seemingly attracted to, and the rise of use among our children is staggering," Benacquisto said after the committee hearing.
The electronic cigarettes are seen by some as more acceptable than smoking, with the process involving a vaporizer to inhale nicotine that is often enhanced with flavors that range from simple vanilla, grape and banana to more alluring cotton candy, peach schnapps, pina colada and bubblegum.
Regulators have agonized over whether the products are a step in helping people quit smoking or serve as a gateway to nicotine addiction.
The Senate measure would make it a second-degree misdemeanor to sell e-cigarettes and related products to minors.
The proposal does not include nicotine patches.
While no cost estimates were available on the impact to retailers, a Senate staff analysis indicated that tobacco permit holders would have to replace their "point of sale calendars" and signage regarding the legal age to purchase tobacco products to also refer to alternative nicotine products.
Benacquisto's measure must still go through the Criminal and Civil Justice Appropriations Subcommittee, the Criminal Justice Committee and the Appropriations Committee.
The House version of the proposal (HB 153) has three stops scheduled at the Business and Professional Regulation Subcommittee, the Government Operations Appropriations Subcommittee and the Regulatory Affairs Committee.