Big Tobacco vs. Cities and Counties

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. A bill banning e cigarettes to minors almost went up in smoke thanks to big tobacco flexing their muscle. Cities, counties, and anti-tobacco advocates were concerned they’d have local power taken away.

Banning the sale of e-cigarettes to minors flew through the legislature until recently. Cities and counties were for the ban, but they would have lost the ability to set stricter regulations on their own. The sponsor, Rep. Frank Artiles says the state needed to set the tobacco and nicotine rules. “I believe there needs to be uniformity because the wholesalers and the distributors that actually sell 3.5 billion dollars worth of tobacco products, they just want uniformity.”

Anti-smoking groups wouldn’t back the bill until lawmakers cleared the air about whether or not they’d let cities establish their own tobacco ordinances.

Heather Yeomans with the American Cancer Society says preemption of local governments is a way for big tobacco to get what they want. “By design, it’s easier to lobby the state government than it is to lobby 67 counties and 400 separate cities.”

Florida’s league of cities had no problem with the ban. But lobbyist Casey Cook says local governments know what’s best for their citizens when it comes to tobacco. “Any time you preempt, you tie a local governments hands behind their back, and you prohibit them from coming up with a solution that works to help them solve a problem in their community.”

The bill was amended without support from the sponsor to allow local governments to establish future rules. Rep. Frank Artiles still believes the main goal of getting nicotine out of young people’s hands was reached. “We’re ahead of the federal government, we’re acting before the FDA because we need this.”

The House unanimously passed the legislation. The Senate now has to sign off on the amended bill. If the bill passes the Senate receives the Governor’s signature, the ban wouldn’t go into effect until July.

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