Overlooked yesterday because of the hoopla surrounding the PMTA deadline were the stories of the state of Florida and the city of Chicago both taking action on flavor bans. In one case, people who vape and smoke were well-served by the clear-headed decision of a political leader. In the other, those groups were let down yet again by a political body known for its shady backroom deals.
On Sept. 8, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis vetoed a bill that would have banned all flavored vaping products, except tobacco and menthol flavors. The bill, SB 810, passed the legislature in March, but was only sent to the governor for a decision on Sept. 4.
The veto culminated the longest campaign ever by vaping advocates urging a veto vote. The Florida Smoke-Free Association (FSFA) and the Vapor Technology Association (VTA) led the state’s many vape shops and manufacturers in a focused effort to urge the governor to veto the flavor ban. Thousands of Florida vapers engaged with the governor’s office through a CASAA call to action.
The bill was originally designed to bring Florida law in compliance with the federal Tobacco 21 law passed late last year. However, whether the state passes a T21 law of its own or not, federal law is in effect to prevent sales to anyone under 21.
But at the last minute, a flavor ban was added, something advocated by anti-vaping groups in the state, but also supported by Juul Labs and tobacco companies. Because it made an exception for PMTA-approved flavors, those companies saw the ban as a way to drive out unwelcome competition from vape shops and independent e-liquid manufacturers while their flavors are kept off the market by the FDA.
The governor’s staff did extensive research on the flavor topic before DeSantis made a final decision—an extremely rare thing. His office reached out to experts on both sides of the issue, and he issued an unusually nuanced statement with the veto.
“This legislation would almost assuredly lead more people to resume smoking cigarettes, and it would drive others to the hazardous black market,” DeSantis explained. “The latter consequence is especially significant because the much-publicized cases of lung injury associated with vaping in recent years has been traced to illegal, or black market, vape cartridges containing THC, not to the types of legal aping products this bill would abolish.”
Gov. DeSantis, a conservative Republican, risked alienating powerful members of his own party—including the state’s attorney general Ashley Moody—who had joined with anti-vaping groups like the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids to support the flavor ban. The bill passed the Florida House by a bipartisan landslide vote of 99-17, and in the Senate by 27-9.
“The United States and Florida surgeons general have declared vaping to be an epidemic,” Moody said in a statement after DeSantis’ veto. “As the attorney general and a mother, I will continue to advocate for legislation and in our courts to protect Florida’s children.”
DeSantis had indicated even before the bill was introduced that he might not support more vaping restrictions. That gave vaping advocates enough hope to sustain a nearly five-month-long campaign to persuade the governor against signing the bill.
The VTA lobbied the governor’s office with eye-popping statistics about the effect of a flavor ban on the Florida economy. According to the national trade organization, shutting down the independent Florida vaping industry would have a $1.5 billion negative economic impact on the state. As the governor’s decision approached, Florida state economic analysts echoed the VTA’s economic warning.
The FSFA rallied vapers to engage with the governor through social media, using the hashtag #VetoSB810. And VTA even produced a TV commercial that ran on stations in the Florida capitol Tallahassee, beginning in late March.
In the end, DeSantis listened to the evidence and made the right choice.
The Chicago City Council passed a ban on “flavored liquid nicotine products,” after removing menthol cigarettes and other flavored tobacco products from the bill. The ordinance passed on a 46-4 vote.
The bill’s sponsor, Alderman Matt O’Shea, “made a deal with the tobacco industry — don’t touch our menthol cigarettes and we will support you banning a tiny percentage of our revenues (flavored vaping products),” according to American Vaping Association President Gregory Conley.
O’Shea originally proposed a ban on all flavored products, including menthol cigarettes, but pared the ban down to a prohibition of flavored vapes after facing an outcry from local convenience store and gas station owners, and tobacco companies. O’Shea claimed he could only get enough council support for banning vaping products.
The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids cheered the ban, claiming the ordinance “delivered a win for kids over the tobacco industry,” and provided a “major boost for the growing national movement to end the sale of flavored e-cigarettes.”
The tobacco industry doesn’t see any flavored vaping products.
“I’m asking for your support because we all know vaping is unsafe for children, and we all know that vaping products are marketed to children, with flavors like apple, berry, bubble gum, cotton candy, gummy bear, Fruit Loops, nilla vapes, strawberry shortcake,” O’Shea told fellow aldermen. “So please, don’t hide behind ‘vaping is a cessation [device].’ They’re targeting our children and it will cost lives.”
“I’m hearing stories, even from my daughter’s school, of fifth-graders who are smoking and using vaping products in the bathrooms of elementary schools,” said Mayor Lori Lightfoot.
“My father was a two-pack-a-day smoker for my entire growing up years,” Lightfoot added. “He only stopped smoking because he couldn’t get enough oxygen to breathe. He was on oxygen for the last two years of his life. And I watched him die a slow, painful, miserable death.”
The council also passed a resolution promising “dedication to continuing to work on crafting and enacting legislation to ban the sale of all flavored tobacco products citywide, including menthol cigarettes.”
According to Cignot owner Victoria Vasconcellos, a longtime Chicago-area vaping advocate, the law will primarily affect gray market products sold in convenience stores. The few vape shops that are left in Chicago already sell non-nicotine e-liquid and separate “nic shots” (unflavored nicotine)—a strategy used to avoid much of the excessive Chicago e-liquid tax that forced many stores to close.
However, the Chicago City Council members who voted for the ban didn’t understand all that. Their intention was to crush vaping in Chicago, even if they had to protect cigarettes to do it.