The fight over vaping will be returning to the state Capitol this upcoming legislative session, with public health advocates and vape manufacturers are retailers already gearing up for a pitched battle over how best to curb youth vaping.
As Sen. Heather Carter, a Phoenix Republican who unsuccessfully sought stricter vaping regulations last year, announced at a press conference Tuesday morning that she would be reintroducing her legislation when the legislature returns to work in January, she was met with a crowd of protesters organized by the Arizona Smoke Free Business Alliance.
Carter urged for a “public health” focused approach to vaping that is not led by “big tobacco” or “big vape” to curtail the growing issue of access to vape products in public schools, adding that defining vape products as tobacco – and regulating them like traditional cigarettes – and raising the age requirement to 21 are common-sense first steps.
Cave Creek Unified School District Superintendent Debbi Burdick said her district has seen a 50-percent increase this year in vaping incidents in elementary schools.
Carter’s will not be the only vaping legislation lawmakers will consider.
Sen. Martin Quezada, D-Glendale, announced that he will be proposing legislation that will prevent advertisements for vaping products near schools or where children congregate.
Carter also said that she is interested in pursuing legislation that would create a statewide licensure requirement for tobacco retailers in the state. Currently, Arizona is one of only 13 states that does not have a statewide tobacco retail license requirements for tobacco retailers.
What that means is that any business in Arizona that has a sales tax permit is allowed to sell tobacco products, making it difficult to enforce state laws barring sales of tobacco to children.
The state needs to step up and act, said Dr. Jeremy Feldman, a Phoenix pulmonologist, because the Trump administration has shown that it will not. President Donald Trump in September said he was moving to ban the sale of flavored e-cigarettes, which critics say are designed to attract young users. But this week, Trump tabled the idea because he feared losing support in battleground states if he pursued the ban, The New York Times reported.
“There seems to be a backbone deficiency at the federal level,” Feldman said. He added that it is up to state lawmakers to help solve this “preventable problem.”
After the press conference concluded, the protesters gathered and began chanting “vaping saves lives.” The protesters all held signs with pro-vaping slogans written in similar handwriting.
The slogans included “Adults like flavors too,” “Veterans vape too,” “Save the flavors,” and “Show the truth about vaping.”
Arizona Smoke Free Business Alliance lobbyist Tory Roberg said she helped organize the protest said the group was made up of vape shop owners.
Roberg said they want to keep their products out of the hands of children and aren’t opposed to regulations as a concept, but they “would need to see it” and Carter has not invited them to discuss her legislation.
When asked if they would support a statewide licensure requirement, Roberg replied that “we have no idea what that means.”
Carter said Arizona Smoke Free Business Alliance and other vaping advocates already have representation in the legislature, namely in the form of other lawmakers.
Last session, Rep. John Allen, R-Phoenix, ran a bill that would have raised the tobacco age to 21. His legislation was backed by various tobacco and vape industry groups, including Arizona Smoke Free Business Alliance. However, the bill also would have exempted the industry from future local regulations imposed by cities and counties.
“Why would you look to the same industry that created the problem to solve the problem?” Carter said, adding that none of her proposals would prohibit legal purchases of vaping products by adults and would not ban any products.
Carter, who also sought to raise the tax levels on tobacco products last session, said she would not pursue similar legislation in 2020 but would support any lawmaker who made similar efforts.
Efforts by Carter to pass similar efforts last year passed the Senate but ultimately did not make it out of the House. however, Carter said she is ready to “roll up her sleeves” and let the “real work” begin.
Arizona has been at the forefront of the national debate on vaping, with industry lobbyists focusing on Arizona and Arizona’s Department of Health Services spending more than $43,000 so far this year on Snapchat ads targeting Arizona youth on the dangers of vaping.
The Tucson Unified School District also recently joined in a national lawsuit against vape manufacturer Juul, arguing that the company has targeted teens for vaping, endangered students and forced educators to divert time and money to fight an epidemic.