House subcommittee moves to curb illicit vaping despite local industry pushback

by | Jan 24, 2024

Florida’s House Regulatory Reform & Economic Development Subcommittee advanced a bill on Wednesday to regulate nicotine products, particularly vapes, targeting the sale of illegal and unregulated products in the state.

Florida’s House Regulatory Reform & Economic Development Subcommittee on Wednesday advanced a measure aimed at regulating nicotine products, particularly vapes, amid rising concerns over illegal and illicit sales in the state.

The bill, introduced by Rep. Toby Oberdorf, seeks to combat the proliferation of unregulated vape products, which he cited as a significant issue in Florida. The state reportedly saw more than $363 million worth of illegal vape products sold last year, many targeting youth with enticing designs and flavors. Under the proposed legislation, these products would require registration and proof of compliance with FDA regulations.

The bill mandates the creation of an online directory by the Department of Business and Professional Regulation (DBPR). Retailers and wholesalers would be required to sell only products listed in this directory, ostensibly to ensure adherence to federal guidelines.

“Florida has the dubious distinction of being the number one state in the country for illegal and illicit vape products,” said Oberdorf. “[The] Florida Retail Federation estimates that more than $363 million worth of illegal vape products were sold in Florida last year, most of which were marketed and designed to hook kids with bright colors, candy flavors, etc.”

However, the bill faced opposition from various industry stakeholders during the public testimony, with vape shop owners, industry representatives, and members of vaping associations expressing concerns that the bill, if passed, could negatively impact small businesses and lead to a black market for vapes.

Critics also questioned the efficiency of the FDA’s Pre-Market Tobacco Application (PMTA) process, labeling it arbitrary and capricious. There were also apprehensions that the bill might unintentionally impose a flavor ban, a measure previously vetoed by Gov. Ron DeSantis in 2020.

“This bill and its sister bill in the Senate do absolutely nothing positive for our state or public health,” said Nick Orlando, a Clearwater vape shop owner and President of the Florida Smoke Free Association. “Language in this bill props up the FDA’s PMTA process, which is very flawed. This bill will have a huge negative impact on state revenue, small mom-and-pop businesses, and will also create a huge black market. I also would like to mention small businesses and responsible retailers will be the only ones who follow the laws as we have.”

Despite the opposition, the committee voted favorably on the bill. In his closing statement, Oberdorfer stressed that the bill does not position itself on flavor bans and is primarily focused on safety and consumer health.

“As we go through this process, this bill takes no position, and I repeat, no position on flavors whatsoever,” said Oberdorf. “Additionally, this bill is all about safety and what you’re putting into your lungs.”

In a recent open letter addressed to the Florida House of Representatives and Senate, Juul, an industry leader in the vape market, urged lawmakers to endorse HB 1007 and its Senate companion, in response to the sales of illegal vaping products in the state.

In the letter, Juul Labs said it “is on a mission to transition the world’s billion adult smokers away from combustible cigarettes, eliminate their use, and combat underage usage of our products.”

The company recently agreed to pay hundreds of millions of dollars to settle lawsuits by dozens of states and has also agreed to compensate a number of Florida school districts after they filed legal claims against the vape maker for not taking adequate steps to protect students.

The letter, penned by JUUL Labs’ Regional Director for State Government Affairs, Jennifer Cunningham, made clear that the company wants a better-regulated market, but the letter also shed light on the company’s efforts to combat underage usage of its products. Cunningham wrote that those measures include supporting “Tobacco 21” laws to raise the legal age for tobacco product sales to 21, restricting vaping flavors to tobacco and menthol, limiting product purchases per transaction, and promoting retail partner compliance through ID checking and technology advancements.


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